Before the start of last season then Manchester United boss David Moyes described his side's opening fixtures as 'hard to believe'. In their opening five games United faced Chelsea, Liverpool and eventual champions Manchester City.
United lost two of those three games, with only a goalless draw against Chelsea to their credit. A further home loss to West Brom meant United lost three of their first six games.
You could say they never recovered, as the Red Devils went on to suffer their worst ever Premier League campaign: losing 12 matches (including home and away defeats to rivals City and Liverpool) on their way to a seventh placed finish that meant there would be no European football at Old Trafford for the first time in 24 years.
So bad was it that United did something they had not done in 28 years: sack their manager. Moyes departed in April, ten months into a six-year contract.
Moyes' failure at Old Trafford has been put down to many things, but the one thing that stands out for me is the complete lack of momentum his reign had.
Lack of momentum
Go back to last summer and what you saw was United make a meal of their recruitment for the new season. It was obvious to any football observer that United needed strengthening post-Ferguson.
It was widely felt the United's Premier League success in 2012/13 owed as much to the force of will of Ferguson, and the failings of their rivals, as it did to the merits of that squad. It's not unkind to suggest the United class of 2012/13 was one of the most mediocre to lift a Premier League title.
What Moyes and United needed were some marquee signings to build momentum and freshen up an ageing squad. What happened instead was the snubbing of Old Trafford by every major target and the last-ditch acquisition of Marouane Fellaini from Everton at a hefty £27.5 million – a move based on absolute desperation not sound tactical logic. That miserable start to the season now looks to have been an extension of their underwhelming and inert pre-season.
Fast forward 12 months and the picture is very different: United moved quickly to appoint Moyes' successor in renowned world class coach Louis van Gaal; with swiftness the Old Trafford hierarchy signed key targets like Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. On top of this United have already lifted a piece of 'silverware', defeating Roma, Real Madrid and Liverpool on their way to International Champions Cup success in the United States.
While the success States-side will probably count for very little in the grand scheme of things and will be quickly forgotten when the Premier League kicks off next weekend, the deeper, underlying, point is that so far everything about the van Gaal reign screams 'momentum'.
Now turn back to where we began: the fixture list.
United's opening six Premier League games are a picture of contrast to last season's. They play all three promoted teams and no team that finished inside the Premier League top ten last season. Everton visit Old Trafford in United's seventh game and not until October 26 to do they face one of last season's 'top four' when they host Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.
What it means for Van Gaal is that he begins Premier League life with six highly winnable fixtures, providing him with a further opportunity to keep re-building the United snowball into a championship avalanche.
The mere presence of the Dutchman in the Old Trafford dugout means that all of sudden the atmosphere at Old Trafford has been transformed from a cauldron of doom and gloom to the Theatre of Dreams of old. Some, maybe quietly, will tip United for the title and if they can get on a roll early then there is genuine reason to believe they could be an unstoppable force.
Momentum is often nine tenths of the law in sport and when champions get the tide in their favour they are usually unstoppable. Van Gaal is a proven champion, having done it time and time again in all corners and on all stages of Europe, and he will be looking at those first six fixtures believing there is a great opportunity for United to build up a head of steam.
With early momentum, and without the distraction of European football, United could be a real force to contend with this season; I dare say, they could well prove irresistible.
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