Manchester United have rarely occupied the once so familiar heights of top spot in the Premier League since the departure of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
His 26-and-a-half-year reign as Red Devils boss casts a very long shadow over Old Trafford. While Fergie had 1,500 games in charge, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn’t even reached a tenth of his old mentor’s tally, but briefly and temporarily restored United to their perch.
The mercurial France midfielder Paul Pogba scored a winning goal at lowly Fulham that took them back into first place after New Year for the first time since they last won the title. Could the Red Devils remind their noisy neighbours Man City and fellow bitter rivals Liverpool of what they were capable of?
As things turned out, it was a short but sweet return to the top. Despite a club record unbeaten away Premier League run, dropped points in subsequent matches meant Solskjaer’s side slipped from the summit just as they had regained that prominent position.
Briefly savoured and abruptly lost. The number of football matches today come thick and fast, so keeping up with live Premier League results via streams and predictions is important as the table keeps changing from one game involving title contenders to the next.
The Red Devils looked certainties to beat rock bottom Sheffield United, but the Blades pulled off one of the great Old Trafford upsets. A dismal home defeat left the hosts humbled, but Solskjaer said there would no inquest despite spurning such a seemingly golden opportunity to seize hold of top spot.
There has been more than one false dawn at theatre of dreams in the post-Ferguson era at United. In the wake of the Blades’ big win, a number of fringe players have left the club. This may just be coincidence or the start of yet another overhaul.
First, Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo ended his temporary switch from the Chinese Super League after falling down the pecking order when Solskjaer signed free agent Edinson Cavani. Fellow Uruguayan player Facundo Pellistri, yet to play for the Red Devils’ first-team, meanwhile, agreed to join La Liga strugglers Alaves on loan in Spain.
Most significantly of all, England midfielder Jesse Lingard – a United regular in the previous five seasons – left for West Ham United. He had loan spells away from Old Trafford before, but this is his first since 2015.
Lingard links up with former Red Devils boss David Moyes, the failed direct successor to Ferguson, at the Hammers. There is a feeling that this could be the beginning of the end of his 20-plus-year association with the club after joining the United academy as a boy in 2000.
That Lingard, a homegrown player that Solskjaer has known since at least his days at reserve team boss under Ferguson, could fall so dramatically out of favour is a shame. This is not the Red Devils of old, however, when academy products are guaranteed anything.
How, and even if, United get back to the top of English football on a regular basis remains the big question fans want answered.