Louis van Gaal’s first season in charge of Manchester United has had its fair share of ups and downs. Despite spending around £150 million on players during the summer, his aim for the 2015/16 season would have been to produce a top 4 finish, and qualify for the Champions League next season.
United’s poor start to the season saw the side being written off as title contenders very early on. Their form over the festive period continued to scupper their ambitions and further questions were asked about Louis van Gaal’s men. Liverpool’s inspiring form coming into the new year was also a cause for concern, their unbeaten run stretched 13 games before a Juan Mata inspired Manchester United stepped in.
Prior to United’s win against Liverpool at Anfield, the Merseyside club were the firm favourites to reach the top 4, which was understandable given the sides form. Manchester United’s loss against Arsenal in the FA Cup Quarter Final added further doom and gloom at United. Many predicting the sides top 4 chances were over, given the upcoming fixtures which at the time included Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.
However, since being knocked out of the FA Cup, United seem to have come on leaps and bounds. Prior to the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea, United claimed 6 wins out of 6, including victories against the sides earlier mentioned. This meant that it was United who were touted for not only a top 4 finish, but potentially top 2.
United’s 3-0 defeat against Everton will have definitely left fans shaken. LvG’s men went into the game knowing a win could all but secure their Champions League place. But, it wasn’t to be. Their second loss on the trot now means there is still much work to be done.
It would seem Liverpool are United’s biggest rivals when it comes to the top 4 spaces. The Reds will be looking to pip one of the Manchester clubs to the Champions League, with their form seemingly on the up. Having said that, Liverpool’s game with West Brom did end in a stalemate, which will be seen as a huge opportunity missed. It doesn’t seem as if Manchester City’s misery is over either. Although they have won their last 2 on the bounce, they had to fight hard to overcome Aston Villa, albeit very luckily, which may well see them too far ahead for Liverpool to catch.
So that leaves Manchester United as Liverpool’s best chance of retaining their top 4 place. United currently sit 4th in the table on 65 points, with 4 games to go. Liverpool are on 58 points, but have played a game less. Should their next date away at Hull City end in a win, they would close the gap on United to just 4 points. Scary times for all at United, who will be desperate to ensure they don’t miss out on 2 years of Champions League football.
So let’s have a look at the two sides remaining fixtures, and see what could realistically happen.
Manchester United’s remaining fixtures:
West Brom (H)
Crystal Palace (A)
Hull City (A)
Liverpool’s remaining fixtures:
Hull City (A)
Crystal Palace (H)
Stoke City (A)
United face a tough trip to Crystal Palace, who under new manager Alan Pardew, have massively impressed. This may prove to be a vital game for United, dropped points could cost them dearly. They then face Arsenal at home, who have been fantastic since the turn of the year. This fixture could pan out as another huge game. However difficult these two games may be, should Manchester United overcome West Brom at home, and manage a win against Hull City on the last day of the season, then that could still see them over the line and into the promised land.
Liverpool will expect to win at least 4 out of their remaining 5 games to have any hope of a top 4 finish. Their trip to Stamford Bridge looks on paper to be a difficult encounter, so they could expect to lose the game and still be in with a chance. Should the Merseyside club pick up an impressive 12 points out of a possible 15, then many would agree they will have a real chance of upsetting their fierce Manchester rivals.
However, (still with us?), even if Liverpool manage to come away with that decent run in their last 5 games, Manchester United still have a huge advantage over them. The maximum points tally Liverpool can record is 73, and that’s assuming they win all 5 of their games. United currently sit with 65 points, meaning they would need to win 3 out of their remaining 4. But to assume Liverpool will win all their games is a long shot, in the likely event that they do slip up against one of those 5 sides, Manchester United will only need to get 2 wins from their remaining 4 games.
One things for sure. There is certainly no reason to doubt Manchester United after a single disappointing game. Football is a game where anything can happen, which can work to your teams benefit but also to their detriment. The next game after a loss is always seen as a chance of a fresh start. Manchester United’s likelihood of reaching the Champions League is still hugely favourable, it is also not out of the question to push for the top 2.
So no need to panic, believe in LVG and the boys and we will see ourselves in the Champions League next season.