What if…. United finishes fourth and wins the FA Cup?

April 25, 2016 Tags: , , , Reads 25 comments
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How Manchester United fans have missed that feeling: late winning goals in huge fixtures such as the FA Cup semi-final. Anthony Martial’s superb winner against Everton on Saturday has granted the 11-times FA Cup winners another final appearance in May; a chance for a first FA Cup trophy since 2004. It begs the obvious question: if United secures the cup, and potentially fourth place in the Premier League, does Louis van Gaal have a future at Old Trafford after all?

Manchester City has set a good pace ahead of United in the race for fourth position, although the Blues dropped points against Newcastle United this week, while Arsenal continues to flounder amidst a wave of self doubt. It is an annual tradition that threatens to derailed yet another season.

Quietly though United has found a rhythm, much like the one Van Gaal’s team discovered late last season. Since a disastrous March, potentially Van Gaal’s worst month in charge – which is no mean feat – the Reds have begun to recover. United began the turnaround with a narrow derby win over City post elimination from the Europa League to Liverpool.

It wasn’t the most convincing performance, but an away win from a team that boasts just the 10th best record on the road in the Premier League. Following March, April has been hugely successful, heavy defeat at White Hart Lane aside.

Indeed, since the start of February, Van Gaal’s team has become a genuine force at home, even if the performances have not always been convincing. In that time, the Red Devils have won all six home games in the Premier League, scoring 11 goals and conceding just twice – both against Arsenal.

While not overly ‘dominating play’ recent performances might suggest that the team doesn’t need to. Sir Alex Ferguson’s final title winning team had a pedestrian midfield, a patchy defence and was overly reliant on David De Gea, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie. Yet, the team found a way to win games, mostly due to a focus on attacking relentlessly through the team’s brilliant forwards. The approach was the opposite of Van Gaal’s, whose team has tended to shut up shop, scraping through games after snagging a goal.

United’s remaining home fixtures are against champions-elect Leicester City, while Bournemouth is at Old Trafford on the final day of the league season. However, Van Gaal’s side also faces a trip to relegation fighting Norwich City, and an emotional fixture against West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground – the last ever game in the stadium.

Neither of those away fixtures is a given. The Hammers will be determined to say goodbye to the ground in style, and Slaven Billic’s team has lost just twice at home this season. Norwich presents a greater opportunity for gain against a team that has struggled with a porous defence at home this season. The Canaries are fighting for their Premier League future though, and that is motivation enough for any player.

So what if United wins four in a row and then the cup? Arsenal could very well continue to slide, as demonstrated against Sunderland on Sunday, while City’s focus on the Champions League is likely to be a distraction. Despite the brilliance both Arsenal and City have shown this season, neither has been able sustained it, or United’s own flaws would have left the Reds far behind after a mediocre campaign under Van Gaal.

It is also worth noting that Arsenal and City play at the Etihad on the 8 May. One, possibly both, will drop points. In a season where seemingly anything is truly is possible, United could yet pull off a miracle and qualify for the Champions League.

In an increasingly realistic scenario, what might happen to Van Gaal if unlikely success follows? The Dutchman is seemingly all but gone given the ongoing talk of José Mourinho having signed on as manager for next season. Yet, Ed Woodward’s stance could well have softened, even if temporarily, in light of United’s win over Everton. After all, the Boardroom reluctance to hire Mourinho is well-known. Should United go on to clinch a record 12th FA Cup and catch one or both City and Arsenal to gain a Champions League place, Van Gaal could yet earn another season at Old Trafford.

Woodward’s wiggle room is still a factor: nothing has been announced on the New York Stock Exchange in terms of Mourinho’s future, and there is unlikely to be any dry ink on a formal contract for the Portuguese just yet. The most likely scenario is that Mourinho has been lined up, but no final decision has been made that would risk destabilising the team with five games to go.

Why? Because Woodward and his paymasters the Glazer family are just as desperate for the revenue that comes with Champions League football as they are to save on sacking Van Gaal prematurely. While there is plenty of uncertainty around Old Trafford in the post-Ferguson era, there is no doubt that finances take priority.

"What might happen if unlikely success follows? Van Gaal is all but gone, yet Ed Woodward’s stance could well have softened, even if temporarily, in light of United’s win over Everton."

The recent upturn in results, plus the ongoing youthful narrative building around Van Gaal’s reign, has also offered some reason not to terminate the manager’s contract early – and avoid a payout to a second failed manager in succession. Should results continue to be positive Van Gaal may be allowed to continue the work he claims to have started.

Some of that youthful ‘strategy’ has been aided by the good fortune of injuries, but the Dutchman has managed to assemble a strong core of younger players, including David De Gea, Guillermo Varela, Chris Smalling, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Luke Shaw, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Jesse Lingard, Memphis, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial.

Indeed, United’s more senior players have not offered the support that they should have this season. It points to the potential for a brighter future. Of course, the right players need to be acquired too, with a thin and unbalanced squad placing too much reliance youngsters such as Rashford and Martial.

In this any argument that Van Gaal should see out a third year is a tough one to rationalise, even if United finishes fourth and beats Palace at Wembley next month. After all, Van Gaal’s record in the transfer market is patchy at best, the team’s performances patently sub-par, and entertainment still in short supply.

For the moment thoughts return to United’s five cup finals. What could another month of good football do? Mourinho is waiting, but there are also games still to play and a trophy to be won. This season has proven unpredictable, and the weekend’s Cup semi final has shown, if nothing else, just how much can change in a short period of time.


Rick - April 25, 2016 Reply

that has to depend on the Mickeys and the noisy neighbours?

CoolAnimal - April 25, 2016 Reply

Luv my utd,but not gonna happen! 5th but win the FA, perhaps LGV can eff off to his paradise island!

Jon Rowe - April 25, 2016 Reply

Nice piece.
DDG is 26 & Smalling 27 in November though (Neither quite as young as you think)
Can’t see the reasoning behind another year of turgid football, risking top 4 3yrs in a row, as opposed to guaranteed success from Mourinho – Even if it does besmirch Woodward’s “good name”.

Adam Joseph - April 25, 2016 Reply

it was more in reference that they were players to build around Jon. not on the downslide etc.
i don’t disagree but unfortunately there is traction to the idea!

Claron - May 9, 2016 Reply

Mourinho’s tactics are pretty much similar to LVG , get a goal then just kill the game . We have seen Chelsea parking the bus. I personally don’t want that kind of football again. We reds love fast flowing football and Mou wont bring that to us .

Ogar III - April 25, 2016 Reply

Unreal banter

Roman - April 25, 2016 Reply

Still up in the air for me. I love dreaming about what United could become if the Glazers were bought out and we became a Barcelona-style club with the board beholden to the citizens of Manchester and not some greedy yanks! GLAZERS OUT!

Opti - April 25, 2016 Reply

The Everton win was important for United and our fight for 4th as an FA Cup final will bring a battle for starting berths at Wem-ber-ley.

We should win (comfortably) against Norwich and Bournemouth, but Leicester and West Ham are tough. I could see us squeeze a win against Leicester, if we nullify Kante and they do not have Vardy available. West Ham will rely on individual brilliance and a tired Payet, but we won two weeks ago, so why not.

If we win all our games, I see us pip Arsenal to 4th. That Arsenal team has no fight in it and no goals. They look tired and Man City look the opposite.

It’s gonna be close!

Emmyleo balbao - April 25, 2016 Reply

You all have to wake up from your dream….. You look at the gunners and manshitty without thinking twice (what if…the two never give up)I know we all want united success,but do u imagine what might happen if we slip up abit…
Man united will remain same under LVG,with lots of unexpected shit to comeby….
Mark my word,both city and gunners will remain in the top four. As we all know the fourth position is d gunners birthright. We have difficult away games ahead,next match against leicester won’t be easy as well…
I only hope United win the FA cup….and the glazers hand will be force to make moves….Manchester united fan are tired of watching a mediocre performance.

Adam Joseph - April 25, 2016 Reply

nobody is saying it’s guaranteed? never was stated. and i clarified what you’ve predicted also, it’s a hypothetical discussion.

Sam - April 25, 2016 Reply

Despite current form, I see both City and the Arse finishing at least a couple of points ahead of whoever finishes 5th and looking at West Ham’s draw, I think they can beat us to 5th, if they win their game against us.

Liverpool probably Will stay in 7th but they might get closer than we might think.

Darragh - April 25, 2016 Reply

If we got 4th and the FA cup Id probably be happy for LVG to finish his contract. It has been mind numbingly dull and prosaic (waay too) many times this season but oddly everytime you think it has completely failed there has been a big result.

If there was someone like Potticino (or Klopp) or some such in the pipeline then Id be all for change, but Jose doesnt have a record of using youth, which is something that I want to see at Utd. He has a record of great success using superstars. If he has to change that to suit the ‘Utd way’ of using youth then presumably he is gonna need some time to come up with something new.

However if we finish outside the top 4 then get Jose in..

kayit moses - April 25, 2016 Reply

l want lvg to extend his contract so that we will become like Barcelona. l love united, am always red.

Roman - April 25, 2016 Reply

Is it just me or is Fellaini celebrating his goals where he points with his thumb to his back and then does a swirl around his head just the perfect embodiment of his awkwardness and general lack of physical coordination? And does his hair imply he’s a pastafarian?

Roman - April 25, 2016 Reply

Liverstool were looking like world-beaters before the Big Ben brought them back down to earth. I am a bit intimidated of what Flopp might accomplish, though.

NazManUnited - April 25, 2016 Reply

That will be good but the icing on the cake will be LVG’s Head!

Denys - April 25, 2016 Reply

there’s just one sentence: “HE SHOULD STILL LEAVE (and 4th won’t happen anyway).”, right? 🙂

Chester Red - April 25, 2016 Reply

Are we missing something ? I’ve heard that the winners of the UEFA Cup get automatic entry to next seasons UCL and worse, if the scousers were to win it, their entry would be at the expense of the 4th placed PL team. If true, I can’t imagine a worse scenario than us scrambling to a 4th place finish only to then see the Champions league spot taken away by Klopp’s boys. If this is a realistic scenario I’ll take 5th place and drop LvG off at the airport after he’s cleared his stuff out of his office. Given that nobody else has mentioned this, I may have got it wrong, but I can’t see a situation where uefa will have 5 English teams in Champions League. More than happy to be corrected.

K Red - April 29, 2016 Reply

There can be 5 EPL teams in the CL next year as long as City don’t win the CL this year.

Ralph C - April 26, 2016 Reply

I’m split on this.

I’ve always said it was perhaps a touch unfair to expect Van Gaal to deliver properly when the players he was going to be relying on were either a) injured, b) new and from another league and needed time to settle first and c) young. Sometimes, players could indeed tick all of a, b and c.

Not defending the quality of football at all. Aston Villa 1-0 is barely acceptable. Seeing United take it to the corner flag against a relegated team makes me want to facepalm…

Still… any silverware would still objectively be an improvement. Something like that could properly kickstart the team in terms of confidence… A few proper upgrades in the transfer window, or hell, even properly putting in Mensah and some of the others in from preseason, Shaw returning, and Memphis settling could just as suddenly switch this team on going forward.

If Van Gaal wins the FA Cup, I would risk another year and keeps fingers crossed we don’t regret it….

Dazza2501 - April 27, 2016 Reply

Although ending with a cup win & top four would be great, looking back at the past two seasons, LVG still has to go. The emergence of youth players is great, but that was not by design or philosophy, but as the result of an injury crisis. LVG has also been inconsistent with youth. At the start of the season Januzaj & Wilson were considered two of the clubs best prospects, yet LVG has progressed neither. In addition the tactics and football have not been good enough. Then there is the soap opera in the transfer market , ably assisted by Ed Woodward. LVG claimed the squad was unbalanced yet chucked away every experienced striker bar Rooney. Overall the balance of the squad is no better than when arrived,. Although the Jose rumours get louder, apart from the cup run, the one shining light is the emergence of Martial Rashford & co . Would they thrive under Mourinho ? United are a club that has always stuck by and trusted its youth to develop, perhaps it needs to do the same on the coaching side with Giggs, as I doubt Pochetino will leave Spurs, and I fear for these kids chances to shine under Jose. Perhaps LVGs pending departure leaves us thinking more of philosophy than ever

Opti - April 27, 2016 Reply

” Januzaj & Wilson were considered two of the clubs best prospects”
— I would say that neither have done enough to warrant game time. Januzaj got his big contract and has done nothing since then on the pitch. At Dortmund, he did not earn a start. Wilson was never in the frame as a starter or a Shaw-like über-potential youngster.

If LvG gets 4th and wins the FA Cup, I will keep him around and hope it gels before he leaves. Else, sack him on May 22nd and bring on anyone but Mourinho on a 2 year contract.

Julian - April 28, 2016 Reply

Januzaj and Wilson have proved huge disappointments – so far anyway. Januzaj in particular seemed to be a big talent in the making but reports of an “attitude” issue may provide something of a clue – particularly as regards his disastrous loan spell at Dortmund. Wilson had a history of scoring a hat-full of goals at every level and it all promised so much when he continued in similar vein on his first team debut. I don’t know what’s been happening at Brighton, with injuries perhaps being part of it, but a return of 4 goals in 23 Championship appearances isn’t good.

As regards LvG. Obviously I’d like him to win the FAC and then make a graceful exit. I’m afraid that Mourinho is the only appropriate replacement if United hope to compete with Pep at City and even a resurgent Liverpool under Klopp. Hopefully Mourinho will, if indeed he comes at all, put part of his super inflated ego aside and respect the clubs traditions – particularly as regards continuing to give the current crop of promising youngsters opportunities. At least we would have a manager more in tune with the modern game and one who could compete with the likes of Guardiola. There’s no-one else of his ability and record available. He’ll stay for two or three years and then he’ll be off. Hopefully by the end of that time United will not only be a real force domestically but also in Europe where we have been uncompetitive also-rans for more seasons than I care to remember.

bobbynoble - April 28, 2016 Reply

Well said, Dazza.

gigs11 - April 29, 2016 Reply

well said opti …

” Januzaj & Wilson were considered two of the clubs best prospects”
— I would say that neither have done enough to warrant game time. Januzaj got his big contract and has done nothing since then on the pitch. At Dortmund, he did not earn a start. Wilson was never in the frame as a starter or a Shaw-like über-potential youngster.

If LvG gets 4th and wins the FA Cup, I will keep him around and hope it gels before he leaves. Else, sack him on May 22nd and bring on anyone but Mourinho on a 2 year contract.

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