Written by: Siddesh Iyer //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

When Eden Hazard swivelled past the two hapless Arsenal centre-halves and calmly slotted the ball past a floundering Petr Cech, Josè Mourinho, at least for a few moments would’ve become nostalgic about his title winning season at Chelsea, however the demoralising loss for Arsene Wenger’s side would’ve got Josè thinking that Man United could actually break into the top 4 with a winning surge in the second half of the season.

This contemplation of the “Special One” received further impetus from an unlikely source, Josè’s fellow Portuguese Marco Silva got his revitalised Hull City side to beat Liverpool and ensure that the Reds from Merseyside haven’t won a single game since the turn of the year. Mourinho has already admitted that Premier League title is too distant for comfort, however with the morale boosting away victory against the faltering champions Leicester (LEI 0-3 MUN) & these pivotal pieces of the jigsaw falling into place, do the Red Devils have a realistic chance of at least getting back amongst Europe’s elite next season?

“We cannot win the Premier League, that is very obvious. I don’t know how many points or matches Chelsea have to lose or victories we have to make in a row, but in another three competitions we can win. We have to fight for these competitions.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                – Jose Mourinho

credit Aleksandr Osipov

STALEMATE:

The Mourinho regime at the biggest club in England and arguably in the world, from its first impression has been based on getting back to the “Manchester United” style of play coupled with a resilience and toughness to beat that we’ve observed in various Mourinho teams down the years. However, a lack of goals or rather, a lack of cutting edge in the final third have underlined the the reason as to why the Red Devils lie 6th in the Premier League season. Manchester United have registered the highest number of draws this season with 9 draws to their name alongside Middlesbrough. Moreover, 6 of the 9 draws have come at home this season with the United frontline failing to score past some spirited goalkeepers including the likes of Tom Heaton (Burnley) and Eldin Jakupovic (Hull City). However, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic said it’s more down to poor finishing rather than just praising the opposing keepers for their plaudits. If these draws were all wins then the United side would now be up there with Chelsea on 60 points probably only behind on goal difference. However, the reality is these stalemates have left the Red Devils on 42 points languishing in sixth, albeit with a wonderful opportunity now to break into the top 4 given their fellow rivals struggles.

 

GOALS AND ONLY GOALS:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is currently out there all by his own, 2nd in the Premier League goal scoring charts with 15 goals and 20 goals for United in all competitions. However, that’s all United can say about their goal scoring prowess! It’s been a one-man show as far as the goals have concerned, with Swedish superstar carrying the burden all by his own. If Zlatan scores it’s game on for United, else it’s all over. The likes of Paul Pogba and Juan Mata have had numerous chances to kill the game and establish United in the driver’s seat, however their “shooting boots” seem to have deserted them every single time at the moment of reckoning. Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, despite being the club’s all-time top scorer finds himself relegated to the bench, then again he too has been far from his vintage best this season. If Josè, somehow gets his stars to shoulder the goal-burden and the finishing of the squad as a whole is propped up to a new level, United still pose a definite force to raid into the top 4 slots in the Premier League.

FALTERING PACE:

Mourinho’s major aim was to get his side playing the Manchester United way, and pace is certainly an integral part of playing like the United sides under Sir Alex Ferguson. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford fit the billing here. Mkhitaryan, after enduring an indifferent start to life in the Premier League has finally come to the fore, showing flashes of his creative ability and unending set of skills, nevertheless, he still has a long way to go to achieve the form of the “Bundesliga Player of the Year” that United signed from Dortmund. Anthony Martial, after an amazing breakthrough season at United has been plagued with certain off the field struggles which have heavily impacted his form on the wings for the Red Devils. Mourinho has publicly condemned the Frenchman for his lack of endeavour and zeal on the pitch and has called for a steady and quick improvement in his performances. Marcus Rashford can’t be blamed for the faltering attack at United, given the fact that despite being an out and out striker Rashford has been doing quite well on the left flank for United. If this trio of speedsters manages to rediscover the ruthlessness and guile that it can achieve, then United can certainly mount a serious challenge to their rivals for the elite Champions League positions.

THE “LUCK” FACTOR:

Mourinho keeps saying that United have been quite unfortunate with regards to their position in the League, but is it actually the case? Partly yes and partly no! Yes, the referees have been quite harsh when it comes to awarding certain decisions in United’s favour. It is also true that had some of these decisions gone United’s way, then their position in the League would be a lot higher than what it is now. Nevertheless, the players not performing up to the mark can be held more responsible for the 6th position that United currently lie in facing a challenge to sneak into the top 4.

credit I30_

In a nutshell, it is quite apt to say that the positions right from 2nd to 6th are up for grabs. Antonio Conte, with a magnificent first season in England has got his Chelsea side firmly in the driver’s seat for the Premier League title and it would be quite a feat if any of the chasing pack manages to dislodge the Blues off the pinnacle of the Premier League table. All the same, the fact of the matter is Manchester United cannot be written off at this moment in time just yet and they still retain the prowess to have a major say in both the title race and the one to be amongst Europe’s elite come next season.

What would be a good season for Manchester United this season? Let us know in the comments below!

By Siddesh Iyer

A die hard Man United fan for over a decade now. It's been a journey of thrills and spills, lots of highs and a few lows. A part of AOF for over a year now, I specialize in opinion pieces, FPL and match previews and interviews of some well known names in the footballing world ( Interview of John Dykes on AOF).