Cleat Geeks

Europa Cup,FA Cup & Premier League Derby : 10 Defining Days For Manchester United

In Britain there is a saying that sums up the process of ‘waiting’ and it is this, ’you can wait ages for a bus, then two come along all at once’. Other parts of the world I am sure have their own equivalent expressions which sum up the amount of time spent waiting on public transport and the accompaning frustration, no matter if they are buses, trains, taxies or even camels.

For Manchester United the week that began on Thursday 10th March and ends on Sunday 20th March is their ‘bus’ experience. Three games, (which will in time stretch to four because of a cup replay), in two different cups competitions; the Europa Cup and the FA Cup, and a premier league game at Manchester City will probably define United’s season and perhaps the fate of Louis Van Gaal.EuropeLeagueSoccerBall

On Thursday 10th March, United put on a display so poor, in the first leg of the Europa Cup match at Liverpool, that the final score of 2-0 flattered the Manchester men. It would have been far more convincing for Liverpool had it not been for United’s David De Dea in goal. Had Liverpool run out 4 or 5 goals in front, making the second leg match irrelevant, there could have been no complaints from United.

After the one sided affair Van Gaal’s pronouncement that United are ‘still in the competition’ is true, like the good politician he is, Van Gaal highlights the positives and discards the negatives. However even Van Gaal would have had a sleepless night remembering the lack of fight, possession and overall desire his team showed at Anfield. It goes without saying however that 2-0 is not insurmountable for United and they have faced bigger challenges in the past and overcome them, but not with this team and not with this manager.

While it is correct to cite the twelve or thirteen injuries to senior players which have reduced Van Gaal’s squad to the limit, it would be remiss not to be aware of his part in the overall squad situation and the reason it is now so alarmingly thin.

Before the season 2015-2016 began Van Gaal seemed on a mission to clear out the players whom he saw as surplus to requirements at Old Trafford. On the one hand there was nothing wrong with Van Gaal’s plan, if there was a plan B. A plan B that is in the shape of a recruitment campaign that would leave the team in a healthier position for the season ahead of them. Unfortunately for United and their supporters there was no plan B and as the season has worn on there has been no sign of even a plan C or plan D.

Van Gaal’s philosophy of keeping a minimalistic squad so that the first team players could expect to play every week, without any challenge for their position in the squad, seems questionable to say the least. When in due course the inevitable injuries came along, as the season progressed, Van Gaal’s policy was shown for what it really was arrogance and a lack of foresight. It has landed United in the situation they are faced with at the present moment having to play untried reserve / youth team players in very important matches to save United’s season.

Realistically for United to progress to the next round of the Europa Cup they need to beat Liverpool 3-0. Another possible scenario is to beat Liverpool 2-0, survive extra time and win the tie on penalties. It has to be said that both of these outcomes seem extremely unlikely and the possibility of Liverpool scoring a goal in the second leg is the more likely outcome, practically putting the tie beyond Manchester United’s reach.

europa-league-trophyAn exit from the Europa Cup would be a disaster for United’s hope of Champions League football next season given United’s present league position. It is highly unlikely United will achieve even the minimal forth place in the premiership table to qualify for the competition. In truth United’s only way into the Champions League next season is by winning the present Europa Cup, which as I have said, is very unlikely.

Three days after the Liverpool game West Ham United were the visitors to Old Trafford in the sixth round of the FA Cup. It is fair to say that Manchester United’s journey in this seasons competition has had its far share of luck, especially when their cup opponents have been picked out of the bag. United who in the previous rounds of the competition have faced lower opposition in the form of Sheffield United, Derby County, and Shrewsbury Town, were this time facing an in form team in the shape of West Ham United. The ‘Hammers’ for the first time in a long time being in a better league position than the Red Devils from Manchester.

It has to be said that there was an improvement in United’s play from the previous outing at Liverpool however it was West Ham who took the lead in the second half. A late equaliser from Anthony Martial now means the tie will be replayed at West Ham’s ground in the next few weeks.

Ironically the date for the replay of the FA Cup tie against West Ham will only be settled once the second leg of the Europa Cup tie against Liverpool has produced a winner. If United upset the odds and beat Liverpool in the Europa Cup match remarkably United will still be in two Cup competitions.

Following the Liverpool match United will face neighbours Manchester City away on Sunday 20th March in the Premier League. Both Manchester clubs look destined to miss out on their main prize this season, United’s aim to finish in the top four in the premier league and City’s aim to win the premiership title respectively.Manchester-United-vs-Manchester-City-702x336

Sunday’s match is of course a local Manchester derby so anything can happen as past results over the years have shown. However City are playing better than United at the moment and will be expected to win, perhaps driving another nail into Van Gaal’s coffin.

Around 6pm on Sunday 20th March if United is out of the Europa League and have been beaten by Manchester City, the call for change in the managerial position at Old Trafford will be reignited once again, not that it has completely gone away.

All that will be left for United to rescue a season which started with a promise of attacking, exciting and passionate football will be the hope of a win in the FA Cup reply at West Ham. This followed by a semi-final place at Wembley against Everton and this followed by a place in the FA Cup final at Wembley against Crystal Palace or Watford in May.

If United loses at West Ham in the FA Cup replay no amount of waiting will result in silverware this season for United. In a third year bereft of any trophies since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson United might very well decide to appoint another manager to the hot seat in place of the struggling Louis Van Gaal.

It will be very interesting if that is the case because  while Ferguson lasted over twenty years at Old Trafford, in the space of three years since his retirement, United would have appointed their third manager. Perhaps paraphrasing, (in a football sense), the old saying about waiting, ‘you wait ages for a new manager and then three come along all at once’.

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