Gary Neville played down Manchester United’s title chances after their victory over Burnley but refused to rule out the possibility of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men getting their hands on the Premier League trophy due to the unpredictable nature of this season.
Paul Pogba’s deflected 71st-minute strike proved decisive at Turf Moor and the result ensured United claim top spot in January for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club.
The Red Devils are now only team in the English top flight to remain unbeaten away from home this term and victory at Anfield this weekend would send them six points clear of second-placed Liverpool.
Reacting to United’s 1-0 win on Sky Sports, Neville said: ‘It’s a big win. I think obviously with what was at stake, to go top of the league before Sunday it feels like a big moment in the sense that six to eight weeks ago you’d never think of Manchester United being anywhere near this position.
‘And yet now they find themselves with something building, a spirit growing, you could see the way they were celebrating with each other. There’s a resilience which has built off some performances that haven’t been at times great away from home, but they’ve won when they haven’t been at their best and you get confidence from that.
‘Now they’re starting to play better and the players they’ve got that are really top quality are starting to show that in more consistent fashion. It’s a little more exciting and I’m really going to enjoy these next few days.
‘It’s going to be a huge build-up to the game on Sunday. Liverpool, the best team in the league last season by a stretch and I think probably eight weeks ago, everybody’s absolute certainties to win the league.
‘I still don’t think we’re veering away from that too much, it isn’t a moment to get carried away because we know full well how quickly this season has turned around. It was Chelsea three or four weeks ago, City were having a really bad time and now they’re coming to the fore, Liverpool looked strong and Manchester United looked dead seven or eight weeks ago.’
The former United and England right-back added: ‘Now it’s all turning round for different teams and different moments and it could easily turn the other way in three or four weeks.
‘But it shouldn’t stop Manchester United fans getting carried away in the next couple of days, because why shouldn’t they? It’s been a really difficult few years and there’s been times where it’s looked like United are a million miles away from the top of the league.
‘To be top and three points clear of a really good Liverpool side in January is something that isn’t expected. If you’d said this at the start of the season to any commentator, pundit, Manchester United fan or even the Manchester United manager…
‘This season it was about getting close to Liverpool and Manchester City and they’re doing that at this moment in time and that is what success was deemed to be at the start of the season so we shouldn’t change away from that.
‘I don’t think anyone is saying Manchester United are going to win the league but the fact that they’re in a title race… wow, I never would have imagined it and you’ve got to give credit to the players because I’ve been critical along with a lot of other people in the last two, three, four years because the standard has been well below what the club and fans expect but they’re doing really good things at this moment in time.’
Neville urged United supporters to enjoy their moment in the sun after years of frustration and disappointment and said it could be a ‘really special season’ for his former club, if the likes of Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford manage to maintain their outstanding form.
Asked whether United can realistically win the league this season, Neville replied: ‘It’s a strange season. If you’d said to me at the start of the season, all of us would have said no – no chance, they’re nowhere near the consistency levels.
‘But as I sit here tonight, why shouldn’t Manchester United fans believe and why shouldn’t this team believe. You look at that frontline of Rashford, [Edinson] Cavani, [Anthony] Martial, [Mason] Greenwood. You look at the midfield four, you look at Fernandes, who wasn’t maybe at his best tonight, but then Pogba steps up.
‘They’ve got some fantastic players and other teams aren’t in great moments. I think City at this moment in time are the ones that maybe are just cool and calm and nobody is really talking about them.
‘But City are starting to hit really good form themselves and that may be the real danger. And when City are at the best, as United found out last week, United are still a little bit below but the next few days it’s time to have a little bit of fun.
‘I don’t think it’ll be a comfortable few days for Liverpool in the sense that I don’t think they expected Manchester United to be anywhere near them or see them as a competitor or a threat this season. That’s why it can be a little bit of fun for Manchester United fans.’
‘But I also feel these players believe they can have a really special season. No fans in, it’s odd, it’s changing every single week and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
‘There’s an element of unpredictability to the season and Manchester United could exploit that.’