Following two straight defeats Manchester United’s hold on the top four is not looking as secure as it should be.
Liverpool are only seven points behind with a game in hand, meaning the fight for the Champions League could still be on as the final month of the Premier League campaign gets underway.
But in spite of their disappointing recent results, United should not be judged too harshly. Manager Louis van Gaal was tasked with pulling the Red Devils up from a low of seventh last season, and as long as United stay focused then his target of a top four finish should be achieved.
A 1-0 loss to Chelsea just over a week ago ended a fantastic six match unbeaten run that catapulted United up to third.
Unfortunately, too many injuries to key players coupled with the Blues’ cagey football style meant Van Gaal’s men couldn’t strike back effectively once they’d gone behind.
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Many of those injuries were still unresolved when United travelled to Goodison Park, though Everton should absolutely be praised for their performance as they were very much the better team on the day. But with United unable to play in a style in which they had perfected and relied upon for several months, it was always going to leave them vulnerable.
United have only lost seven games this campaign, which is the joint third lowest in the Premier League, and so thoroughly deserve to be playing in Europe’s top competition next season. Van Gaal’s attacking players have done their best to provide the necessary goals recently, but with both Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie failing to find form United are not as strong as they need to be.
Though most of what went wrong against Everton were mistakes by United’s defence. The Toffees were able to score way too early, putting United on the back foot after just five minutes. Chasing the game left the Red Devils open and they were punished once again before the break. The third, a goal scored by Kevin Mirallas, came from United’s failure to track his run and concluded their miserable afternoon.
Understandably, United are feeling concerned now that the gap between themselves and top four rivals Liverpool has been reduced, but they have a very reasonable remaining fixture list. Three of their last four games are against sides sitting in the bottom half of the table and should prove easier to beat than their recent opponents.
Notably the Red Devils still have to face Arsenal, who knocked them out of the FA Cup in March, and it is this game that most will probably judge how well United have developed this season.
Next up is West Brom at Old Trafford which, despite the hard work of Tony Pulis, should still be a winnable game. United will have to focus though if they want all three points as although the Baggies were beaten by a resurgent Leicester City, they still managed to hold Liverpool to a credible goalless draw last weekend.
United shouldn’t let the last two defeats and the criticism that has come along with it put them off finishing the season strongly. They have the quality to climb to second if they put their minds to it, but only if Arsenal and Manchester City don’t fully take their chances.
Both Chelsea and Everton can be difficult teams to beat and if United had been at full strength then perhaps those two would have suffered a similar fate as Man City and Spurs did just a few weeks ago.