Manchester United should finish in the top four this season.
It was the bare minimum expectation in August, it looked a distant hope in November and it is now a necessity. The respective declines of Liverpool and Arsenal have left the door ajar into the riches of the Champions League next season and Jose Mourinho’s side are only two points outside of the top four with 14 league matches to play.
The postponement of the Manchester Derby due to Man United’s appearance in the EFL Cup final means that Mourinho’s side host Bournemouth and Watford in their next two league outings – two fixtures that they are not only favourites for, but strongly expected to win.
While they may have to wait quite some time to play the derby and catch-up on the fixture lists of their rivals, Man United have a favourable run. Other than the rearranged Man City game – which is yet to be confirmed – they do not play another top four team until an April 15 outing vs. Chelsea.
Everything looks in their favour, short-term fixture-wise at least. The return of the maligned Thursday nights in the Europa League will certainly have Mourinho whining about congestion or tiredness of players or something else obscure, but it serves as a weak excuse for a Man United squad with such great depth. Now Bastian Schweinsteiger is back in the fold and Henrikh Mkhitaryan fully fit, they have even more options than they did while battling through the group stage.
Old Trafford’s visitors this weekend, Watford, have recovered well from a dodgy run to start the year. Unbeaten in four matches in the league – including victories over Arsenal and Burnley – Walter Mazzarri’s Hornets present a threat to Man United, particularly in the shape of the in-form loanee M’Baye Niang. Despite that, they have little to play for at this time of year and Man United should simply have far too much for them.
Undefeated in 15 straight Premier League matches, Mourinho’s team have stepped up after a rocky couple of months earlier in the campaign. Still hounded by draws that have stifled any momentum they looked to build this season, they cannot afford to slip up in similar fashion against Watford or Bournemouth.
Draws with Stoke and Hull have seen Man United fail to take full advantage of Liverpool and Arsenal’s recent collapses. This weekend, most importantly, Liverpool and Spurs face one another, presenting an ideal opportunity for the Red Devils to make up ground. Should Liverpool lose, they could even break their long love affair with sixth.
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 8, 2017
The whole club needs Mourinho to improve on Louis van Gaal’s 2015/16 season. Not only for the financial benefits of Europe’s premier competition, or even for the chance to lure the biggest names, but because Mourinho’s ego will not be able to cope with failing to take the club forward. They are a better side than last season, their league position is down to an improved strength of the top clubs as much as anything. Despite being five points better off after 24 matches than they were last season, it is the final position in the table that will matters. Man United need to be in the top four by the end of 2016/17.
Everything is pointing in their favour right now and Manchester United must take full advantage of that in their next two league matches. Frustrating draws have been the bane of their season, it is time to banish that woe and force their way into the top four.