Still to come in 2018: United's next 10 games
Catch your breath. Pause for reflection. The final international break of 2018 is only just beginning but before we know it, it will have given way to a frenetic run of 10 significant fixtures to finish Manchester United's calendar year.
That's 30 points up for grabs - 24 in the Premier League and six in the Champions League, and both hauls are big enough to make a huge difference to United's season if they can be secured.
But even a majority of wins over draws and losses would surely give Jose Mourinho's men a boost up the domestic table, with Watford and Bournemouth currently ahead of the Reds on goal difference alone and fifth-placed Arsenal only four points better off with a trip to Old Trafford on the horizon.
Here we look at the groups of games that are still to come in this calendar year...
A FAVOURABLE RUN OF FIXTURES?
Statistics-wise, it looks that way, as three of our next four league matches are against teams in the bottom six. So far, United have only played one team in that bracket, Burnley, and beat them away 2-0 back in September.
Ander Herrera has already pinpointed the next two games in the Premier League as being must-wins for United - Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on 24 November and Southampton away on 1 December. Palace have suffered five defeats from their last six league games, and they were beaten 4-0 in last season’s corresponding fixture.
Mark Hughes' Southampton sit one berth below sixteenth-placed Palace, having won just once in the league so far this term. United have a positive recent record at St Mary’s, winning on three of the last four visits, while the Saints themselves have only been victorious there, on their own home turf, twice in the last 12 months.
After a tough midweek test against Arsenal, the Reds will welcome Fulham to Old Trafford on Saturday 8 December. The Cottagers are currently rooted to the foot of the table, have lost their last seven games in all competitions and boast the leakiest defence in the top flight this term, having already conceded 31 goals. United haven’t met them since the 2013/14 season but are unbeaten in the last 10 meetings, winning eight and drawing two.
TWO TITANIC TUSSLES
Despite Sunday's derby defeat to Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, United have performed strongly against other leading sides in recent weeks. Jose Mourinho's men were minutes away from recording the club's first away win over Chelsea since 2012, and ended Juventus' unbeaten start to 2018/19 by coming from behind to win in Turin.
The Reds will need more of that resolve in December, when hosting Unai Emery's Arsenal and travelling to Anfield to face high-flying Liverpool. The Gunners have been re-energised since Emery seized the reins from Arsene Wenger in the summer - putting together an 11-game winning streak - but the north Londoners have not won a league match at Old Trafford since 2006.
Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have also struggled to overcome United in recent years. A Marcus Rashford double put the Merseysiders to the sword at Old Trafford last season in the most recent meeting between the sides; a result which followed three drawn meetings on the spin.
Entertainment and emotion are almost guaranteed with these two pre-Christmas crackers, and positive results over our top-four rivals could be vital in hoisting us back towards the top of the table after an inconsistent start to 2018/19.
A frustrating draw with Valencia and defeat to Juventus had left Reds fearing the worst in the Champions League, but the dramatic win over the Italian club at the Allianz Stadium has given us renewed control of our fate in Group H.
Jose Mourinho and his men will host Young Boys knowing that another win over the Swiss side will take the club's points tally to 10, and provide a minimum two-point advantage over third-placed Valencia ahead of matchday six. That scenario would leave us needing simply to avoid defeat at the Mestalla to qualify. But if the Spaniards fail to defeat Juventus in Turin as we triumph over Young Boys at Old Trafford, qualification will be assured even earlier.
Should that be achieved – on either the penultimate or final matchday - United can look forward to the last-16 draw, which takes place in Nyon, Switzerland on Monday 17 December.
Jose Mourinho's men will round off 2018 with three games in eight December days, before the 2019 schedule begins with a Wednesday-night trip to Newcastle United - a fixture switched from New Year's Day for live TV coverage.
The triple-header around Christmas features opponents who are not traditionally tipped to finish in the top six, although Bournemouth are currently and deservedly in sixth place after a cracking start to the campaign. The Cherries have lost their last two games, however - at home to the Reds and away to Newcastle, and Eddie Howe will be hoping for a recovery long before their 30 December match in Manchester.
Old Trafford will also stage the Boxing Day contest between United and Huddersfield Town, who lost 2-0 in February this year on their first visit since 1972. Before that, in the last game prior to Christmas, the Reds will be in South Wales looking for a better result than the 2-2 draw with Cardiff City in November 2013.
To see our remaining 2018 schedule in full, head to www.manutd.com/fixtures.
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