Man United’s fourth straight win is proof of club’s resurgence

Suddenly, Manchester United are out of the danger zone and show signs of a strong pulse after four consecutive Premier League wins, including Sunday’s 2-1 triumph at Luton Town.

The TV images of youngsters Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo sitting together and flashing smiles on the Stretford End advertising hoardings after a recent goal against West Ham seemed to symbolise a new and more upbeat mood at Old Trafford. There is a new belief, dynamism, intensity and resilience about United, and their win streak means they’re just three points behind Tottenham Hotspur, who occupy fifth spot. It seems likely that this season’s top five will qualify for the Champions League given England‘s coefficient in European competition.

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For now, the pressure is off manager Erik Ten Hag, who has faced months of doubt and awkward questions about his suitability for the job despite delivering a trophy (Carabao Cup) and top-four finish last season.

Rumours spread that some players “were not having him,” but his brave hardline approach in confronting disciplinary issues with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho are starting to look like battles he has won. A team that seemed to be sleepwalking through some games in the autumn now looks to be buzzing, the evidence of which has been seen in an exciting 4-3 triumph at Wolves and 2-1 wins in two demanding away games at Aston Villa and Luton. In the latter this weekend, the defence passed the test against the home team’s turbo-charged style and stream of dangerous crosses.

Two months ago, the United side that lost 3-0 at home to Bournemouth and finished bottom of its Champions League group (behind Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen) after a tame 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich would almost certainly have been beaten at Villa Park and Kenilworth Road.

Around that time, only bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United had scored fewer goals. United’s start to the season was their worst in 60 years and astonishingly, none of their strikers scored a goal at Old Trafford before Christmas. So what has helped Ten Hag’s team turn the corner?

For a start, they look like scoring with every attack and Hojlund, who failed to find the net in his first 14 Premier League games, has become the youngest player in the modern era to score in six successive English top-flight matches. Quick and adept and spinning off defenders to either score or lay on chances for teammates, the now-confident Danish striker is looking a hot property.

Likewise, the bleach-blond Argentinian winger Alejandro Garnacho is frightening defences with his pace, trickery and eye for goal. The bicycle kick he scored at Everton remains the season’s most breathtaking moment to date.

Then there is Rashford, apparently back in the fold after his boozy night out in Belfast and subsequent omission from the FA Cup tie at Newport County. He returned with a goal at Wolves and, it’s fair to say, will have been left in no doubt by Ten Hag and his teammates that further indiscretions will not be tolerated. A return of five goals in 23 matches is still way down on his 17 league goals last season, but he is playing his part in a menacing front three.

The Reds’ revival can also be traced back to the introduction of 18-year-old Mainoo in a defensive midfield role. He made a brilliant full debut in a 3-0 win at Everton and has the composure of a player 10 years older. He looks like a certain future England star.

André Onana‘s goalkeeping has improved after a shaky start, Diogo Dalot has been outstanding at full-back, Harry Maguire has returned from a “footballing Siberia” to anchor the back four again, while the return from injury of Luke Shaw and Casemiro have added further experience and leadership to the group. (One caveat: The latter’s disciplinary record, with nine yellow cards in his past 11 appearances, does make him something of a liability.)

Despite his occasional petulance, club captain Bruno Fernandes remains an undroppable player, though Ten Hag would like to see a return to the form that brought him 18 goals and 12 assists in his first season with the club. (This season, he has just three goals and five assists from 23 league games.)

United’s critics might argue, with some justification, that this team are still nowhere near the level of the current elite (Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal) and that they have ridden their luck in one or two recent wins. They are far from the finished article but are certainly going the right way at last.

The takeover of the football part of the operation by United fan and billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe promises to blow a hurricane through the corridors of a famous club that, while still making big money, had fallen behind its main rivals in some inept transfer dealings, such as paying over £80m for the disappointing Antony from Ajax and £60m for Mason Mount, who had rather lost his way at Chelsea and has been mostly injured so far this term.

United have hired a new CEO (Omar Berrada) away from local rivals Manchester City and want Newcastle’s highly rated Dan Ashworth as their new sporting director to work at the sharp end of recruitment. There is also talk of United building a “Wembley of the North” as a new stadium to replace an aging Old Trafford.

How much investment is possible in the first-team squad might be tempered by Financial Fair Play and Profit and Sustainability rules (PSR), but it would be a surprise if Ratcliffe and his team do not make some sort of major splash in the market place this summer. Though in order to do that, it’s vital they can offer potential signings the chance to play Champions League football.

Will Sir Jim’s winds of change blow away Ten Hag and bring in a new manager? Not on current form, perhaps, but the former Ajax boss is not the new regime’s appointment and United still have to play Liverpool and Arsenal at home, as well as Manchester City away.

It will be fascinating to see if their resurgence can pass such stiff tests, but the shoots of a recovery to save what once looked to become a nightmare season are definitely starting to appear.