Now this is a question that not many United fans would ask themselves 3 seasons back. But its football and things change. From being a team that used to terrorise other teams with just their name to being a team that the bottom league clubs also feel that they can get at least a point against, such are the changes that United have gone through in mere three years. United are currently sixth in the Premier league table and are four points off fourth placed Manchester City and two points off fifth placed West Ham United. Personally, I don’t feel that United can make it to the top 4. I give my opinion based on these factors.
Fixtures and Competitors:
With 9 games remaining Manchester United is yet to play Everton, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Bournemouth at home. They have away matches against Manchester City, Tottenham, West Ham and Norwich City left. While except for Leicester all other home games seem winnable for Van Gaal, yet you can’t guarantee anything of this team. United have already lost at home to teams like Watford, Norwich City and Sunderland. With such a poor record at home, Everton and others would be aiming to get at least one point from Old Trafford if not all three.
In away matches they have three tough ones. Beating Manchester City, Tottenham and West Ham are going to be a very difficult challenge for Van Gaal’s team. Not to forget that United already lost to Norwich City at home earlier this season. It seems highly impossible that Manchester United can win all of their remaining matches and even losing one point at this point might cost them a 4th place finish.
Even though Manchester City is also having a recent dip in form, you don’t expect them to finish outside the top four. With Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal looking set to occupy the first three places, there is no way that Manchester City will want to lose the fourth spot. They will try to finish higher but in worst case scenario they will try and finish fourth. Manchester City also has a tough round of fixtures ahead but they have performed better under high pressure in the last 4 seasons at least.
Injuries and make-shift play:
With one after the other injury to first team players this season, Van Gaal has already handed debuts to half of the reserve team youths. The latest on the list was young Timothy Fosu Mensah. As many claim that it’s a great achievement and it highly encourages the youth, we cannot help but notice the dark side of it. It shows how unplanned the United first team structure is. With Wayne Rooney out injured, Van Gaal is playing young 18 year old Marcus Rashford in that role. Even though the teenager had a brilliant start to his career, he has had 3 quiet matches post that.
Also Rashford was originally a right midfielder who was deployed as a striker for the under 21 team as recently as the current season. Against Liverpool in the Europa League, Van Gaal almost made him play a second right back role for most part of the first half. Not sure what was going on at that time in the mind of Van Gaal but at times even he doesn’t seem to be sure as to where he can play the young Englishman.
All of this confusion would have never arrived if he had not sold Javier Hernandez earlier in the season or Danny Welbeck last season. On top of that he hasn’t bought any such replacements for the departing strikers as well. Though Antony Martial was bought, he is mostly being used out wide on the left or the right. All these makeshift plays have already angered most of the United fans and they are asking the Dutchman to leave. There is a reason why teams like Norwich City come at Old Trafford and go away with 3 points. Even they know that the players are confused about their position and they capitalise on it. All these makeshift play definitely doesn’t seem to be a way United can be in the top four.
Forms of top players:
Apart from David De Gea last season, the top players for Manchester United were Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young. These three were the prime players responsible for guiding United to a top four finish. This season except for David De Gea, the other two have been quite average. Fellaini just returned from injury and has been extremely poor since his return. Even before getting injured, he looked extremely slow on the ball, his passes looked bleak and he hardly scored any with his headers like he did last season. United fans want him to leave and there’s a high probability that it might happen soon.
Young has been out injured for two months now and is supposed to be back in training sometime this week. Before getting injured he was just more than average. While some matches he was brilliant, in most he was not. This inconsistency is also because of the inconsistency in the roles he was being deployed as. With these two star performers of last season not being their best this season, United’s chances of making it to the top four looks very bleak
Also the star performers of the first half of this season have taken a dump in their recent performances. Chris Smalling was the best defender in the league in the first half of the season. In the second half he has just been more than average. Though he looked good in the West Bromwich match, he was all over the place in the Liverpool game. Apart from him another star performer in the first half of the season was Dutchman Daley Blind. Even though not a regular Centre-back he performed well and was arguably the cleverest defender in the league. Of late he has looked fatigued and hence average. His crosses, which were the best thing about him has become the most average thing. He has had horrible misplaced passes in the last 4 games. Again with such dip in form of players, a top four finish seems highly unlikely.