03 Oct, 19:30
Manchester United have enjoyed an impressive start to the season but perhaps it should come with an asterisk.
Jose Mourinho's team have won six of their seven Premier League games, drawing the other, but the counter argument to suggestions United are genuine title challengers is that they are yet to face a real test; only two of their opponents so far finished in the Top 10 last season.
But if August and September have given United a gentle start, October and November could be defining months. As well as a Champions League double header against Benfica and a Carabao Cup fourth-round trip to Swansea, three of the next four Premier League games are against Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea, all top-four finishers last season.
If United are top of the table after visiting Stamford Bridge on Nov. 5, the asterisk will have to go.
Oct. 14: Liverpool (A)
United drew 0-0 at Anfield last season and Mourinho was accused of negative football after his team registered just one shot on target. He has the players to be more adventurous this time, although there still might be an element of caution in his team selection.
Paul Pogba in unlikely to recover from a hamstring injury in time and it will be tempting to pick a midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera. Mourinho has usually picked four attacking players this season but that will be reduced to three if that is the case.
The game will also be a chance for Romelu Lukaku to address doubts about whether he can score important goals in big games. He has got 11 in 10 games since moving to Old Trafford and, for West Brom and Everton, scored five in 11 appearances vs. Liverpool.
Prediction: Liverpool 1 - United 3.
Oct. 21: Huddersfield (A)
Mourinho was unhappy about the quick turnaround between last Wednesday's game in Moscow and the 3 p.m. kickoff against Crystal Palace on Saturday, but it mattered little as United won 4-1 and 4-0. The manager will hope something similar happens with little more than 60 hours between trips to Benfica on Oct. 18 and Huddersfield three days later.
Huddersfield have started well in the Premier League but Tottenham showed on Saturday that they can be vulnerable. Having scored four times in six separate games already this season, United would expect to win comfortably if they can overcome the effects of the Portugal trip. Mourinho will be well aware that Huddersfield have a free week to prepare, although that was no help to Palace.
Prediction: Huddersfield 0 - United 4.
Oct. 28: Tottenham (H)
Tottenham's recent record at Old Trafford is poor: Their last three visits have ended in defeats without scoring; Henrikh Mkhitaryan got the only goal of the game last season. Harry Kane's form will be a concern for Mourinho but the United manager will back his team to deal with the England striker, who has never scored at United's home ground.
Most of the talk has been about a United attack that is averaging three goals per game, but they haven't conceded a Premier League goal at Old Trafford since April. Moreover, only Tottenham had a better defensive record in 2016-17.
United 2 - Spurs 1.
Nov. 5: Chelsea (A)
Mourinho will not admit to it, but losing 4-0 at Stamford Bridge last October must rank among his biggest disappointments as a manager. United were torn apart and were never in the game from the first minute when Pedro opened the scoring for Antonio Conte's team
But by the time Chelsea arrived at Old Trafford in April, Mourinho had come up with a plan to counter the champions-elect. The 2-0 win was one of United's most impressive performances under him, with the way Herrera subdued Eden Hazard especially notable. The Spanish midfielder has been on the bench more often than not this season but might find himself back in the team vs. Chelsea.
Chelsea 0 - United 1.