Manchester United FC

When were Manchester United last top of the Premier League?

Jan 13, 2021, 10:11 AM GMT
FBL-ENG-PR-BURNLEY-MAN UTD
Man Utd have gone top of the Premier League by beating Burnley | CLIVE BRUNSKILL/Getty Images
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Manchester United have taken their chance to go top of the Premier League this week by winning their outstanding game in hand against Burnley at Turf Moor on Tuesday night.

Having now played the same number of games as their rivals, United are three points clear of Liverpool at the top of the table ahead of meeting the Merseysiders at Anfield on 17 January.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen major improvements | Pool/Getty Images

United were trailing Liverpool on goal difference prior to kick-off at Turf Moor, but Paul Pogba's winner in that game puts the Old Trafford top of the pile in their own right.

In the Premier League, United are unbeaten since 1 November and have taken an incredible 29 points from the last 33 available to them since then to fly up the standings.

For United, the improvement this season is there to see. They were 16th after losing their opening game at home against Crystal Palace and were still as low as 15th nearly six weeks later when they lost a third game in six against Arsenal, which remains their last league defeat.

It is evidence that the project which started afresh when Solskjaer was appointed permanent manager in March 2019 is working. Progress hasn’t always been fast, performances and tactical systems still need to mature and the club has plenty of room for improvement in the transfer market. But there can no question things are far better than how they were even a year ago.

Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes in particular has made a difference | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

United raced into third last season from lower down thanks to a late flurry of wins in the second half of the campaign, while they were only briefly any higher than sixth during 2018/19 when Jose Mourinho was sacked and Solskjaer took over, initially on an interim basis.

United spent virtually all of the 2017/18 Premier League in second place behind a Manchester City that was breaking records at will. But that campaign was also the last time a United side had sat top.

Under Mourinho, United started that season with back-to-back 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea to go into first place. They stayed there with a 2-0 win over Leicester in their third game, but momentum briefly faltered with a 2-2 draw against Stoke to begin September.

Stoke City v Manchester United - Premier League
Man Utd were last top of the Premier League in September 2017 | James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

United returned to winning ways a week later with a 4-0 thrashing of Everton, but with an identical record to Manchester City by then, they were forced down into second place on alphabetical order.

Three more wins kept United level pegging, behind only on goal difference, but a draw against Liverpool and then a disastrous defeat to newly promoted Huddersfield handed their neighbours an advantage they never relinquished. City were so relentless that season, winning 18 games in a row between late August and late December that the title race was over by Christmas.

United have been top of the standings briefly since then, going into first place by winning the Premier League's opening fixture of 2018/19, the day before anyone else played. But because they had been pushed down to seventh by the end of that opening week's fixture list it doesn't really count.

Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba has sent Man Utd top of the Premier League | Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

It was three years and four months ago that Manchester United were last properly top of the Premier League in September 2017, until now, and this is the first time since the 2012/13 title winning season they have been top after Christmas.

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