Manchester United head into the mid-season break desperately needing to find some inspiration to spark what has been an indifferent campaign.
While the Red Devils can still win two trophies this season, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people willing to part with their hard-earned cash to back them to achieve the feat.
Winning any silverware is certainly not to be sniffed at, although it would not mask the yawning chasm that has developed between United and the top of the Premier League.
Liverpool’s exceptional form has fired them miles clear of the chasing pack, further adding to the angst that United fans are feeling right now. With title challenges a distant memory at the moment, United are currently scrambling around in a battle for fourth place.
The disappointing goalless draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend left Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side six points adrift of the top four with 13 games to play. Read on as we assess whether the mid-season break can help United break into the top four this term.
Break has come at the right time
It has been a difficult season for United’s staff and players, with the pressure to deliver results clearly weighing heavily on many of them.
The ongoing anger amongst fans over the club’s lack of ambition has contributed to a hostile environment that isn’t helping matters.
The players and Solskjaer looked weary after the Wolves game, highlighting why the break has come at just the right time.
The club’s medical staff will now have the opportunity to work on some of United’s injured stars, with midfielder Scott McTominay probably closest to a return to first team action.
With Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Axel Tuanzebe also on the sidelines, United’s resources have been stretched over the past couple of months.
The likes of Anthony Martial and Daniel James have looked leg-weary in recent weeks and may well be spending time recuperating on the best mattresses that money can buy during the break.
A warm-weather training camp in Spain should also help the players recharge their batteries and provide them with a platform to produce their best form when the Premier League action resumes.
New signings have the chance to bed in
The January transfer window was a frustrating affair for United fans, although Bruno Fernandes’ arrival from Sporting Lisbon did take some of the edge of that feeling.
Their hopes of signing a big-money striker ended the moment Erling Braut Haaland joined Borussia Dortmund, leaving the club scratching around for a short-term fix.
Former Watford forward Odion Ighalo’s loan signing was one of the stranger deals during the window, but he will be eager to prove the doubters wrong.
The break affords both Fernandes and Ighalo the chance to bed in with their teammates and hopefully provide them with a platform to shine during the final third of the season.
Fernandes offered brief glimpses of the quality he will bring to United’s midfield against Wolves and he could be a hugely influential player on the run-in.
Ighalo proved during his previous stint in England that he can score goals in the top flight and the break offers Solskjaer the chance to work out how to get the best out of him.
The pair will need to hit the ground running if United are to finish the season with a flourish and force their way into the top four.
Final fixtures offer United plenty of hope
A record of nine wins, eight draws and eight defeats doesn’t mark United down as potential challengers for a top four spot.
However, they remain in the mix despite their struggles and the final 13 fixtures offer plenty of hope that they can bridge the gap.
The first fixture after the break is hugely important, with a trip to Stamford Bridge to play fourth-placed Chelsea likely to be a tough test.
If United can get a positive result from that game they would be well placed to mount a serious challenge for the top four during the rest of the campaign.
Four of their remaining 12 fixtures after the clash with the Blues are against sides currently above them in the table, offering the opportunity to narrow the gap.
With seven of the other eight matches against sides currently in the bottom eight, the schedule on the run-in is pretty favourable.
If United can come back reinvigorated from the break, they could emerge as a serious contender for a top four place.
The final word: The break has unquestionably come at the perfect time for United, giving them the opportunity to regroup ahead of the run-in. It offers breathing space for the injured players to recover and allows the new signings invaluable time to get to know their new teammates. The game at Chelsea on February 17 is the key to United’s hopes of finishing in the top four and a win there would greatly improve their chances.