Well, that’s a bit awkward.
Most of the time now we think when we sign a player for five years we have a good player for five years. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they practice, they play their best. Because they might be in their comfort zone.Arsène Wenger doesn’t ride to You-Know-Who’s aid
Last night’s FA Cup tie was a ‘no-lose’ for us; one of the two rivals for the top four was going to suffer a psychological blow while the other gets a similar boost. United face Liverpool at the weekend so a comfortable win for the title-chasers wouldn’t go amiss. 6 – 0 is too much to hope but anything for three and above is a bad result, one which is hopefully damaging.
Manchester United face both Chelsea and Arsenal during the run-in. The FA Cup and this weekend’s EFL Cup final interfere. There’s a feeling that Chelsea are on the verge of imploding; a thrashing at Wembley and defeat to Tottenham? Surely that’s on the cards. It could see them six points behind us and in rotten form.
|TBA||Wolves||Brighton||Man City / |
Bold text denotes home fixtures
The reality is that we’ve got to win our home games. No ifs, buts and maybes; it’s clear-cut. There’s an element of the results being the be-all and end-all of football. It determines whether the future is Champions League or Europa League.
Firing Up or Firing Squad
However, form underpins that and therein is Unai Emery’s biggest challenge. We’re playing badly but overall the results are holding up. Three defeats in ten with, let’s be honest, the only bad result being the defeat at West Ham. Which given Manchester City and Liverpool put eight past us is an almost contrary statement to make.
Those performances served to show us how far the gap remains to the top of the table and the weaknesses in our squad.
The question is whether we’re going to reach the top four on merit or because we cock it up less than the other two? It’s a tough one to answer. United’s performance last night was almost a carbon copy of the one at the Emirates, hitting Chelsea on the break. In the Premier League encounter in a fortnight’s time, we’ve got to be more alive to the consequences of losing the ball when attacking.
That fixture, coming hard on the heels of the North London Derby, is season defining for us. While I want us to win at Wembley, I somehow don’t see it happening unless Emery manages to fire up the troops as he did for the match at the Emirates. That remains the benchmark for his reign; we know the players are capable of such performances and until they are the norm rather than rarities, it won’t easily be forgotten.
It is hard to pinpoint whose run-in is best or worst. It works in our favour to some extent that the Manchester derby is postponed. Chelsea travel to Old Trafford in the third-last game which, together with the rearranged derby, gives United less time to recover points dropped. United’s trip to Wolves is also postponed in April. There is some congestion building.
Stick or Twist
Conversely, the back-to-back tough matches we face are helpful in that there are still 24 points to play for after United. We may need a helping hand along the way though.
And I think that is what concerns me more than anything. I don’t have confidence that we can reach on the top four on our own merit. We seem to have a mistake or two more in our system than United. Chelsea can’t be dismissed but they are imploding. They may sack Sarri for his team’s performances but honestly, who knows? [checks quickly to see if Sarri has indeed been sacked]
Irrespective of whether they do or not, it’s hard to see how a team which is on course to lose their next away game 8 – 0 can claim fourth without more help than we need.
Bookmakers think fourth is United’s to lose and I have to say that I am inclined to agree. That’s not to say we can’t ‘win’ the fourth-placed trophy on merit, but we seem unlikely to do so. One thing I wonder is whether finishing fifth but within a point or two of the Champions League places will loosen the purse strings a little more than we might expect. To go close with our problems suggests Emery is on the right path; will that incentivise the board?