We are only in mid-March but already it is as clear as day that Manchester United have very little to play for in the rest of this campaign.
Here we take a look at what the club and its players are playing for across the next few weeks.
The season so far
Before we get into the ‘what next’ we want to talk about the season so far. We’ll keep it short and sweet though even though it’s been a whirlwind. The club were active in the transfer window last season bringing in the likes of Jason Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo; it was supposed to propel United into a title race. By November though manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked; Man United were 12 points adrift of the league leaders and already out of the League Cup.
A laughable managerial search then took place before Ralf Rangnick was appointed as interim coach with a two year advisory role built in. His performance as top dog has been questionable. On the surface, United isn’t losing many games.
They’re playing pretty woefully though. The pre-season talk of a title charge seems a distant memory with the club highly unlikely to even make the top four. They’ve suffered a FA CUP elimination at the hands of Championship side Middlesbrough and been knocked out of the Champions League by an under-par Atletico Madrid side. Pile on top of that numerous links of dressing room disharmony and indications that the new manager isn’t yet sorted and things look bad for United.
So, can they rescue anything for the season?
Let’s be honest, anything Man United can do with this season with be a failure based on their expectations. What it could do though is transform how the club is viewed ahead of a big summer.
The Champions League
The obvious question is can they make the top four? From a mathematical standpoint, the answer is yes; there are nine games to play giving United the possibility of taking 27 points. If you assume Arsenal win their game in hand, which would be the worst case scenario for The Red Devils, then they’ll have seven points to make up. That sounds like a big gap but, importantly, United still have to play the Gunners; that game could be crucial. If United win that match then you can call the gap four points, which is much more easily closed.
That leaves eight other games to play. Chelsea and Liverpool are two of them where the odds will be stacked against Man United taking the three points. The other six though are very much winnable games; every one of those sides is currently occupying a spot in the bottom half. Arsenal’s run in isn’t exactly horrific but there are enough banana skins in there to think they might drop points; matches against Chelsea, West Ham and North London derby with Tottenham standout.
Of course, there are other teams in the mix too. Most realistically that challenge will come from Tottenham. Their form has been patchy but back to back wins after their loss to Man United has seen them leapfrog the Red Devils.
Antonio Conte’s men will definitely drop points though and games against Liverpool, Leicester and an away trip to Aston Villa are three possible games where they’ll give up points.
Nonetheless, if you check on a website for online betting across the Premier League markets, you will see that United is not very favoured into making the top 4. Considering Tottenham seem to be improving every game under Conte, United keeps struggling against midtable teams, which does not play in their benefit.
Playing for their futures
An underperforming squad is always an unhappy one hence you rarely hear tales of disagreements coming out of the Man City and Liverpool camps. That said, the stories – and certainly the frequency of them – coming out of United’s dressing room is alarming. It’s reported players dislike each other, that they dislike the manager, the coaching staff, the sessions and pretty much everything else at Old Trafford. There is a big flip side to that though; few players will want to turn their backs on what is still one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Things aren’t cracking at United right now but there aren’t loads of moves ‘up’ from there – especially with the form the players are showing. If players keep doing as they are right now, it’s highly plausible a new gaffer – or Rangnick – will want to bomb a few out. Why? Well, most managers will forgive short dips in form and mistakes on the field. What they won’t forgive is a lack of effort, a refusal to follow instructions and continued underperformance.
There are several players on the periphery of the United squad that need to be moved on. Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, and Juan Mata are seemingly nailed on to leave with Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard as good as confirmed departures already.
On top of that, you’ve got players like Aaron Wan Bissaka, Marcus Rashford, and Harry Maguire. They’re all good players on their day. Can they show enough quality – on in Maguire’s case character – between now and the summer to prove they belong at Old Trafford as key players?
The final word
So, in summary, there is nothing big that will come out of this season for Manchester United. In a best-case scenario, they’ll make the top four courtesy of some big-name individuals upping their games.
That would ensure the new manager inherits a semi-stable core ahead of the next season. The worst-case scenario is that United end up slipping into either the Europa or Europa Conference League next season with a new boss coming in and wanting to make wholesale changes.