This season represents many things, some of which might be unrepeatable on these pages. For all the negative and frustrating moments over the past few months, it is also a season that represents another Manchester United attempt at lifting a European title. This Wednesday offers United a unique opportunity to add a trophy that, for better or worse, has eluded a burgeoning cabinet thus far. Europa League victory might well represent the ‘bare minimum’ this season, but would help José Mourinho achieve his season’s goal of returning to the Champions League.
The Europa League has provided United fans with something resembling a welcome break from the disappointment of the Premier League campaign. After the now typical draw against Swansea City last weekend, attention turned to continental conquests, and the first European semi-final involving Manchester United in six seasons. Celta Vigo stands between José Mourinho’s side and the Europa League final, but for the moment the focus comes back to the Premier League and Sunday’s fixture against Arsenal.
Fluid and efficient aren’t adjectives often used to describe Manchester United, at least not this season, but it would be a fine summary of Sunday afternoon’s win over Burnley. Mourinho’s men barely had a moment to digest Thursday night’s Europa League before making the relatively short journey north to Burnley. Save for injuries, it was a good week domestically and in Europe.
It may have taken the best part of eight months, but at long last José Mourinho’s Manchester United finally lived up the manager’s lofty billing. On Sunday, facing a side that once threatened to win the Premier League title with months to spare, Mourinho offered his most impressive performance of his short tenure in Manchester. There was little expectation of victory, but United pulled off an unlikely win. Thursday’s Europa League fixture with Anderlecht is a different proposition again.
As fresh problems presented themselves, a familiar result was the almost inevitable outcome. With little more than a handful of choices available, José Mourinho lined up his few available players against West Bromwich Albion and was rewarded with yet another home draw. Although Manchester United is in the midst of an unbeaten league run that stretches almost six months, Mourinho’s side remains fifth, seemingly as far away from the Champions League as ever. The past 20 league games without loss have included nine ending in a tie.
Another week, another frustrating draw. In what is quickly becoming the standard result for José Mourinho’s side, Manchester United braved a 3,750 mile round trip to Rostov to return with yet another stalemate. It was, at least, a result that should be enough to see the Reds through to the Europa League quarter-final. An FA Cup tie at Chelsea on Monday represents another challenge again.
Manchester United might feel much of the hard work has been done in this run of cup games. José Mourinho’s side arrives in France following an unconvincing 2-1 FA Cup victory over Blackburn Rovers at the weekend, but Wednesday’s second leg at Saint-Etienne offers the chance to rest key players heading into Sunday’s EFL Cup final.
Following Manchester United’s disappointing draw against Liverpool at Old Trafford, José Mourinho desperately needed his team to get back on track in the Premier League. It wasn’t to be at Stoke City on Saturday. Any tie at Stoke is challenging, although Mourinho will feel it was one that United should have overcome. Juan Mata’s unfortunate own-goal, together with a string of missed opportunities at the other end, was hardly the way to get the Reds’ season back on course. Good job that Wayne Rooney was on hand to score a 95th-minute free kick, rescuing the day and lifting the striker to the top of the all-time United scorers list.
Following Manchester United’s less-than-impressive start to the season José Mourinho’s side is now on a bit of a roll. Eight wins in succession in all competitions, including a 4-0 drubbing of Championship outfit Reading in the FA Cup, means confidence is at the highest point it’s been since last summer. It’s a run the Reds can continue when Hull City arrives at Old Trafford for a League Cup semi-final this Tuesday.
At what point does, seemingly, appalling luck become par for the course? Since Manchester United last picked up maximum points in a Premier League game, a very familiar pattern has played out: dominant in possession, much of the play, very few chances taken. Three matches, three 1-1 draws. It has left the Reds 13 points off the Premier League leaders.