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Friday, 31 March 2017

United Corner- A Painful April Ahead (March 31st 2017)

United Corner- A Painful April Ahead
The last time I wrote about Manchester United was in early February and the feeling was that Jose Mourinho had a positive six months and there was potentially an exciting end to the season for the fans to enjoy.

The English League Cup has been picked up, but the season was always going to be defined by whether or not Manchester United could return to the Champions League next season. As I have said before, it doesn't matter whether that was going to come via a top four finish in the Premier League or by winning the Europa League and it does feel good that Manchester United still have two doors available back into the premier competition of European Football.

Manchester United have shown they can still bring in the big names and pay the big prices when they are not in the Champions League, but missing out this season will mean the club have been out of that competition in three of the last four years. That will have a negative impact on how they are being perceived and I think all associated with Manchester United will understand that, especially Jose Mourinho who judges himself by how well his teams can make an impact in the Champions League.

That makes the next two months very important for Mourinho and his team and the successes in all four competitions they have entered this season, especially the three Cup competitions Manchester United have been involved in, means April is going to the busiest month for the club in terms of fixtures since the end of the 1970's.

Nine games from the 1st to the 30th of the month.

And each game is very important to Manchester United, although that is a situation that will be ever changing depending on the results they are able to achieve.


There is a feeling that Mourinho has already accepted that the best avenue for Manchester United to get back into the Champions League is by winning the Europa League and the remaining fixture list can't argue with that. Even the positive results in the weekend prior to the international break isn't likely going to be enough to change Mourinho's mind in that regards.

The list of the Last Eight teams in the Europa League is not exactly one that will intimidate Manchester United although the winner of the Lyon-Besiktas Quarter Final is likely to pose the biggest threat in that competition. With that in mind it is easy to understand why Mourinho will perhaps prioritise that competition, especially with Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea all still to play in the Premier League.

Anderlecht won't be a pushover in the Europa League Quarter Final but that is about as good a draw as United could have wanted in that competition at this stage and certainly looks an 'easier' path to the Champions League than the remaining League fixtures.


We should know a lot more about what Mourinho is thinking over the first week of April when Manchester United play West Brom and Everton at Old Trafford before the trip to Sunderland. If Manchester United can take 9 points from those games, and the teams above them in the race for the top four do drop points at the same time, Jose Mourinho could suddenly see a clear route through to the Champions League places via their Premier League finish.

Anything less than 9 points will likely mean all the eggs are having to be put into the Europa League basket and winning in Stockholm on May 24th.

With the injuries in the squad going into the opening week of April, it will be difficult for Manchester United but I do feel they need to keep both doors open at this time of the season. We saw what happened to Liverpool in the Europa League Final last season when focusing on that competition and a team like Lyon could be very difficult to play under the pressure of a one off game.


The key for the top four is going to be a run of games beginning on Sunday 16th April when Manchester United face Chelsea at Old Trafford. The Premier League games will be Chelsea at home, Burnley, Manchester City away, Swansea City at home, before back to back trips to Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

The Europa League Quarter Finals come around the Chelsea home game, while the Semi Finals are lined up around the Arsenal game and three days before the Tottenham Hotspur game. That is what makes the balance for Jose Mourinho so tough when it comes to picking his teams in each match, especially as Manchester United will need all the points they can collect in the Premier League if they are going to crack the top four places.

It all begins with the opening three games of the month though and anything less than those three wins I have mentioned might be too much for Manchester United to overcome.


April is going to be a painful month for the players and for the fans but it could be one that sets up a really successful finale for the team. Building momentum with wins early in the month will help Manchester United earn the confidence to take into the really difficult mid-April to mid-May fixtures they are likely to face.

Make no excuses, let's just get this month going with a positive win at Old Trafford on Saturday and look for the road to open up back into the Champions League. Other teams will drop points too and Manchester United have to be in a position to take advantage of that, but I think most will know how good the top four chances in the Premier League are by the time the First Leg of the Europa League Quarter Final is played on Thursday 13th April.

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