There are always games for each club, which when looked at at the end of the year, helped shape that campaign.
Manchester United just haven’t been the United that we all know, and often begrudgingly admire, this term. Louis van Gaal hasn’t been the most popular manager and the results this season haven’t, in many cases, helped his cause.
His belligerence and arrogance in front of the camera have not endeared him to many, but at this point, the Red Devils have turned a bit of a corner and are looking for a strong finish.
A Cup final win won’t satisfy the natives at Old Trafford, but it is still a major honour and one clubs are queueing up to win. But like Arsenal in past years, the cup merely papers over the cracks of an indifferent, undistinguished and inconsistent season under the guidance of the experienced Dutchman.
His future at the club has been questioned and was already being discussed when he let a number of players leave Old Trafford last summer that would probably have made a huge difference to the season they’ve had.
The United boss has insisted, after all the club’s injuries and unremarkable play, that qualifying for the Champions League would be a “fantastic achievement.”
And Van Gaal also revealed that he was following a blueprint mapped out by the owners – the Glazer family – and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to develop young players in the tradition of the club.
“Last season at this stage, we were training only for Premier League games. We have improved – we are better and our team is better. We have been in the top five all season. Fifth might look worse but it is not like that. It would be a fantastic achievement if we reach the Champions League and a fantastic job by my staff.”
Sadly for LVG, not everyone sees it that way, but following are FIVE defining games of their season:
Manchester United began the new Premier League season by beating Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Old Trafford.
A number of new faces played that day, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay were just three, but although it wasn’t a stand-out performance, it started a run of five games won in all competitions before an away defeat to Swansea. Some big wins in September, notably over Liverpool, Southampton and Wolfsburg in the Champions League, helped keep the momentum going.
It all started so well, but when United went to play Arsenal, things started to change.
Arsenal justified Arsene Wenger’s pre-match title talk as three early goals blew away Manchester United at the Emirates.
Both managers had talked up the importance of the day in the build-up, Wenger calling it the season’s “first massive game” and Van Gaal suggesting three points would give his side the belief to mount a title challenge. Manchester United never turned up at the Emirates and things from here began to wobble for the Old Trafford side. After beating Everton 3-0 the following week, Man Utd didn’t win until 3rd November, almost a month after the Arsenal game.
The season for Van Gaal’s team was widely see-sawing, as they lost at home to Norwich, away to Stoke and just couldn’t find any consistency. The football was dull and unimpressive and supporters at Old Trafford averted their gaze from the pitch to their phones instead, such were the abject displays of football by the current United team.
Liverpool took full control of their Europa League last-16 tie with Manchester United with an assured 2-0 first-leg victory at Anfield, followed by a lively 1-1 draw in the return leg. To sum up their night, it took 51 minutes for United to get a shot on target and that was a low, tame effort. Out of Europe in a few days time, the league performances were poor, out of the Capital One Cup at home by Middlesbrough and it was all looking a bit bleak.
Not so much a defining game for Man Utd, but for both clubs.
Van Gaal needs these three points to make a concerted push on fourth place and snatch it away from rivals City. Two points separate the sides, but United’s woeful goals for record is a drawback in comparison to the top teams. Both United’s need the win and with the advent of West Ham leaving their beloved Upton Park, it will be a highly emotional, highly charged night, so if Manchester United win, then City will be a point behind and the last game for both clubs will be critical.
This could be United’s worst season in many a day at the end of the FA Cup Final. Imagine if Manchester City have pipped them for fourth and that West Ham knocked them into sixth and then disastrously, Palace win the cup, the mood in the red half of Manchester would be volatile to say the least. All of that effort and nothing to show for a club that demands success. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Alternatively, it could be day for celebration, as United win the cup and paper over a few cracks. For now at least.