It is eight years since Manchester United sat at the top of the Premier League at this stage of the season and while manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is steering clear of euphoria, there is clearly a sense that he has turned the corner with his team.
A 1-0 win at Burnley on Tuesday, ground out in freezing temperatures against awkward and physical opponents, put United three points clear at the top of the table ahead of Sunday’s clash with champions Liverpool at Anfield.
Alex Ferguson was still in charge of the club when they were top after 17 games in 2012 and in that season, his final at the club, United went on to win the title.
Whether Solskjaer’s side are capable of such an achievement is something of which many remain sceptical — and Sunday’s game should give a clue as to their chances — but even being in the title race is exceeding expectations.
“It’s a brilliant position to be in,” said Solskjaer.
“Of course we know we’re going to the champions, they’ve had an unbelievable three-and-a-half seasons so we know that’s going to be a difficult game for us but we’re ready for it.
“I think we couldn’t have asked for a better time to play them, because we’re in good shape, in good form, we’re hungry – that’s the big thing, these boys are hungry. They want to get better and that’s a test again, a test of character and a test of quality,” he added.
Few, if any, pundits felt United were ready to challenge Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the table at the beginning of the campaign and their poor start to the season led many to wonder if Solskjaer was even the right man for the job.
A home defeat to Crystal Palace on the opening day was followed by a 6-1 hammering from Tottenham Hotspur in their next home game.
A dull 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford was followed by another poor home display in the 1-0 loss against Arsenal on Nov. 1.
Yet since then United have accumulated 29 points from a possible 33 and with seven wins out of eight in an unbeaten campaign on the road, Solskjaer’s team have finally found the consistency needed to challenge.