As we head into an international break, I look back at the season so far.
Titles are not won in November but given the way the league has been going, teams can surely be out of the reckoning by this time of the year. Staying in touch with the top of the table is vital and so far, we've managed to do just that. So what's been the story so far? Let's start with the negatives. We are not the same at the back. The almost invincible back four of last year is suddenly looking vulnerable and fragile. Gazza has lost a visible yard of pace. Rio has been uncharacteristically patchy and Edwin has looked unsure with crosses. Last season we conceded only 7 goals at Old Trafford, we've already conceded 4 this term with a majority of action to follow. We just don't look like the same cohesive unit and what better evidence of that than conceding 3 goals against a promoted side? If there's one positive there it definitely is the emergence of young Rafael as a worthy option at right back. He's brilliant going forward and gives us a different dimension; let's hope he can improve his positional sense and defensive game with time.
The second negative of sorts is the introduction of Berbatov into the mix. The jury's still out but a return of 2 goals from 10 league starts hardly inspires confidence. With Chelsea accumulating a big goal difference early on, the pressure is immense on us to take our chances. Keep in mind this has even bigger consequences should Tevez run out of patience and want out. A striker is judged by the number of goals he scores and there's not going to be a different yardstick to judge Berbatov.
The third negative so far has been the results against the top 4. We've given up leads against Chelsea, Liverpool and lost to Arsenal. Although we've played all of them away from OT, we've just come home with a point as against a return of 4 from the corresponding fixtures last season. Not a good sign for teams challenging for the title.
Now, let's talk about the positives. We continue to create more chances than any other team in the league. Our forward play is still dazzling. Ronaldo is getting back to form. We haven't missed injured Hargreaves and Scholes so far largely due to Fletcher's tremendous run. We've got young Rafael, Evans and Welbeck coming through. We've gotten some difficult away fixtures out of the way early in the season. We have the best home record in the league this season. And most importantly, we haven't hit 4th gear yet and still are within touching distance of Chelsea and Liverpool (painful!) at the top.
In terms of the moments of the season so far - Fletcher's form in general, Berbatov's magical touchline play against West Ham to set up the 2nd goal, Ronaldo's 100th goal, Welbeck's debut strike and Rafael's wonder goal in a losing cause stand out.
The international break is next and we've got 15 reds in action for their national sides. Hopefully, we'll have everyone back injury-free and raring to go for the busy schedule ahead. Let's hope the next part of the season tells its own story, that we can shrug off the distraction in December (World club championship), and end up with the title just like last season. That's every fan's dream!