Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has spent the majority of the season in apparent crisis.
Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, spoke this week of his confidence that Manchester City would win an unprecedented fourth Premier League title in a row.
How quickly fortunes can change in soccer. Just three points now separate the rivals after United beat Chelsea 2-1 and the defending champions lost 1-0 at Aston Villa on Wednesday to extend their winless run in the league to four games.
“We are on a journey. We keep calm… We are going in the right direction,” Ten Hag said after he put a difficult few days behind him with a morale-boosting win.
The Dutch coach had gone into the game on the back of a 10th defeat of the season at Newcastle over the weekend and reports of player unrest in the locker room.
“(We) Don’t get distracted from criticism around us, but we are very critical of ourselves,” he said. “We know we are not satisfied and happy. We always want to do things better.”
Two goals from Scott McTominay secured the win and moved United up to sixth — three points off fourth-placed City.
Ten Hag will likely face much greater tests than a Chelsea team that are still struggling from the hangover of a chaotic first season under the ownership of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. Not least against Bayern Munich next week, with a place in the Champions League knockout stage hanging by a thread.
But United’s manager would still welcome the change of mood around the club after such a troubled campaign, saying “we wanted to send this message to crowd.”
Now it is Guardiola who is facing tough questions as he was left to assess a winless run that saw City overtaken by Villa after Leon Bailey’s 74th-minute winner.
City’s previous three games in the league ended in draws, allowing leaders Arsenal to extend a six-point lead over them in the standings after a 4-3 win against Luton on Tuesday.
“In these years we have found a way to win games, but we struggled a bit and we have to find a way,” Guardiola said. “It is my job to find a solution. The dynamic changes by winning games.”
Villa’s win saw them move up to third, two points ahead of last season’s treble winners. Second-placed Liverpool trail Arsenal by two points after a 2-0 victory at Sheffield United.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool spoiled Chris Wilder’s homecoming party at Sheffield United.
Wilder returned to the relegation-threatened club on Tuesday, having taken the team up to English soccer’s top division in 2019 and to a ninth-place finish in the 2019-20.
But he has a fight on his hands to avoid the drop. Goals from Virgil van Dijk and Dominik Szoboszlai consigned last-place Sheffield United to a 12th defeat of the season that leaves it four points from safety.
Nottingham Forest may be six points above the drop zone, but a 5-0 rout by Fulham has heaped the pressure on manager Steve Cooper.
Forest have lost five of their last six games in the league and only won one in its last 11.
Alex Iwobi and Raul Jimenez scored two each at Craven Cottage and Tom Cairney completed the rout that has increased speculation about Cooper’s future.
Andoni Iraola is getting things right at Bournemouth. Having had to wait until October for a first win in the league, his team beat Crystal Palace 2-0 to make it three wins out of four in England’s top flight.
Bournemouth are now up to 15th in the standings and nine points above the relegation zone.
Eighth-placed Brighton beat Brentford 2-1 to leave them five points off the top four.