Scott Patterson: Chelsea and Wolves to open does little to lift United gloom

Rafa Benitez at Old Trafford on opening day? That's about as good as it gets.

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It’s unlikely Manchester United supporters have ever felt so indifferent to the Premier League fixture lists being announced as they were on Thursday morning. In the past, they would look to see when they faced their rivals, confident of getting a win, before checking the run in to see if it favoured them and made winning the league easier. The busy period over Christmas was always one to look out for too, with titles won and lost during this time in the past.

The doom and gloom is so heavyset around Old Trafford these days though, with little hope of improvements coming any time soon, that the fans couldn’t really care less who they were playing and when, as the best they can realistically hope for next season is finishing in the top four.

It hardly gets the blood pumping.

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United take on Chelsea at home on the opening day of the season, which isn’t the worst fixture, but it obviously could have been a lot easier.

There are positives to facing a rival club at the very beginning of the season though, as a victory is a great way to start the campaign. Even if short-lived, United fans could have some excitement over what the season may hold for them if they beat Chelsea.

Obviously, the downside of having a hard game on the opening day is that there is a greater chance of you losing and starting off the season on a real low.

United and Chelsea drew in both their league games last season, although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side knocked them out of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge. The Blues may well have a new manager by August and if that is Rafa Benitez, as widely reported in the media this week, then it really will start the season with a bang for United.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – MARCH 02: a fan is seen with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Interim Manager of Manchester United’s name on the back of their shirt prior to the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Old Trafford on March 02, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

There’s no love lost between their supporters and the former Liverpool boss, who famously went on a rant about “facts” before going into meltdown and seeing United overtake them to win the title. They would relish the opportunity to be reunited with him on the opening day of the season.

The next game isn’t an easy one for Solskjaer’s team either though, with them travelling away to Wolves, who United failed to beat in three attempts last season.

United lost twice away from home, including the FA Cup quarter-final defeat, as well as drawing at home.

The first real clash with a rival comes in the middle of October when Liverpool make the journey to Old Trafford. United fans will be hoping the football their team play keeps the away end quiet enough so the six Champions League titles aren’t rubbed in their face. Chances of that happening are fairly slim, regardless of what happens on the pitch, although United’s injury-ravaged side did hold Liverpool to a draw in this fixture last season, which essentially cost them the title.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – MAY 20: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City and Mikel Arteta, Assistant Coach of Manchester City applaud fans during the Manchester City Teams Celebration Parade on May 20, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

United’s next big rival game comes against City at the Etihad at the beginning of December. Having lost home and away against Pep Guardiola’s side last season, United need to show up on derby day as they’ve lost out far too often in recent years. The best team doesn’t always win. Sometimes it can be about who wants it more. Solskjaer needs to inspire that desire in his players.

There are a few difficult months to follow, facing both Liverpool and Arsenal away in January, City and Spurs away in March, but the final month of the season is pretty kind. It starts with a trip to Selhurst Park, with United fans hoping Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be wearing red on that day, before taking on West Ham at home and Leicester away. If United are still challenging for a top four spot at this stage, then those are three winnable games.

But there will have to be huge changes at United if next season is going to be any better than lost, regardless of the other of their fixtures.

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