Picture the scene. It's 6 months ago. Manchester United sit top of the league, a full 12 points in front of Manchester City. Less than 2 weeks later, they are confirmed champions, for a record 13th Premier League title and 20th English title overall.
Sir Alex Ferguson was still at the helm, and the whisper was, The Special One, Jose Mourinho, was ready to take the reigns if Sir Alex decided to go out on a high, which was by no means a certainty. You spy a fan of the red devils, and you approach him. congratulate him on another accomplished season, and then say... "In 6 months time, in the new season, you'll have dropped more points than you've won from your first 7 games, Southampton will be above you in the table, and the only things your manager will have won as the man in charge, is a Community shield against a Championship team, and a Division 2 title 13 years ago.".
There would've been silence. Probably followed by laughter, and then, much questioning of your sanity. And yet, here we sit, with that scenario having unfolded. So the question is : "Now What?"
It's early in the season, that much is obvious. The time for panic has not yet arrived. The manager and the players are still bonding. My view has always been, Sir Alex was good enough to add 10 points to the total scored by United simply by being there as manager. Having won the league by 11 points last season, this means that the players there would likely as not accomplished the same victory over the season anyway, albeit not by such an impressive margin. That means that, given United's relative lack of movement in the transfer window, the team that remains there should be good enough to be competing this season too. So, something is amiss.
In truth, languishing 6 points behind Arsenal and Liverpool will probably not bother the champions that much at the moment. Both have started well, but over a season are unproven these days. 4 points behind Chelsea however, will smart. Many people's favourites for the league this year, the last thing a new manager needs is his closest rival being gifted a jump start. Especially as the manager there is now the man whom the world expected to take the helm after Sir Alex took his leave. David Moyes is a capable manager, but he is not Jose Mourinho. It's like comparing a Rottweiler to a Brown Bear. Sure, they could both make a mess of you if you happened to break into a house in which either resided, but at least you outweigh the dog, and one closed door puts a barrier between you and it. Try that with a bear and see how it ends.
As i see it, they're at a crossroads. Lose 1 of their next 3 games and United could find themselves 9 points behind either Liverpool or Arsenal, going into a game at Old Trafford against The Gunners. The Arsenal game is a must win for United no matter what, unless Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool all capitulate in their next 3 games. That game could change the season.
People say, "Give Moyes time", and "Remember Ferguson started badly". The problem there is, the fans were used to Manchester United back then not winning things regularly. The scenario is very different now, with the money involved from TV rights. With Spurs, Liverpool and Man City, combining with Arsenal and Chelsea to fight for the Champions League places, it's not beyond the realms of possibility for United to miss out on qualification altogether, if they let teams get far enough ahead of them at the beginning of the season. Despondency is a pernicious beast, and it might be all too easy to allow the end of the era of Sir Alex Ferguson, to change the entire shape of a club who have dominated the game for 20 years, with one bad season setting the shape of things to come.
It's early days, both for the season and for David Moyes, but it's always best to remember, the Titanic was only 4 days into her maiden voyage when she ran into the iceburg. Too big to fail, too strong to sink, and with a heritage unmatched in the history of its time, it sank anyway, regardless of all sensibilities. Having lost the same amount of games as they've won, it's not unthinkable that the powers that be, might choose early to reconsider their choice of navigator.
I believe these next 4 games, if you'll pardon the continued watery analogy, are sink or swim time. Lose one and United could be out of their depth. Win all four, and Moyes could turn the season around and begin to create for himself a new dynasty. How apt that the first of these games is at the initial starting point of the Titanic herself. Southampton.