Manchester United have endured many false dawns in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years and suffered plenty a poor season.
First, there was the aftermath of David Moyes’ ill-fated reign at Old Trafford. Under the temporary guidance of club legend Ryan Giggs, optimism returned that the club would bounce back the next season with the right man in charge, perhaps having learned from the Moyes experiment.
Indeed, optimism was the theme of Louis van Gaal’s first campaign in charge of the club. The experienced Dutchman navigated United back from a slow start to the 2014/15 season in the Premier League and delivered them a return to the Champions League. However, van Gaal’s sterile second season at the helm saw the club drop out of the competition in the group stage and fail to win back a seat at Europe’s top table at all by the end of the campaign. Winning the FA Cup was not enough to keep him in the job.
Then there was the José Mourinho era, which started with the promise of a Carabao Cup win and a Europa League triumph throughout the Portuguese’s opening season. That promise was built on in the form of a second-place finish in the league the following campaign – the club’s highest finishing position since Ferguson bowed out with the Premier League title once again in his grasp.
After that proved to be another false dawn under the Old Trafford floodlights, we now find ourselves amid Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s topsy-turvy stewardship of the Manchester club’s attempted revival. With Manchester City currently cantering away with the Premier League crown, Solskjaer once again finds himself under intense scrutiny as many fear the encouraging signs he has built up so far are about to come undone. This would result in one of the world’s footballing giants once more finding itself right back at square one.
Manchester United: A Season Hanging on a Knife Edge
Solskjaer’s Men Could Crash Out of the Top Four
Manchester United’s recent form has been alarming. While one win in five matches in the Premier League could be termed a blip, three wins in ten must be called a slump.
Among those results has been the surrender of a two-goal half-time lead at home against Everton, as well as an embarrassing home loss at the hands of bottom club Sheffield United. Away from Old Trafford, there has been a scrappy draw with struggling West Bromwich Albion, plus United’s latest showing in a lifeless draw with Crystal Palace.
Solskjaer must act now to ensure this slump in form does not become one his side cannot haul themselves out of before it is too late. Indeed, club legend Gary Neville has already used the term ‘sleepwalking’ to describe the club’s current state of affairs on the pitch.
The consequences could be fatal. Despite their poor form, United’s recent run of fixtures could be characterised as kind given the usually relentless nature of life in the English top flight. The fact Solskjaer’s team are still second in the table is at times hard to believe.
Had Manchester United kicked on of late and cemented that second spot, their manager could have switched his full focus towards bringing domestic and European silverware back to the Theatre of Dreams this season. He simply cannot do that while a top-four place remains in such jeopardy.
A Critical Run of Season Defining Fixtures for Manchester United
Upcoming fixtures could hold the key to determining whether this current season will eventually be viewed as a continuation of progress or yet another false dawn at Manchester United.
Their next five matches will see Solskjaer’s side take on their city rivals in the Premier League, plus high-flying Leicester City and West Ham United sides in the same competition. Those clashes are to be punctuated by a Europa League tie with a resurgent AC Milan, who are currently second and ahead of Juventus in their domestic league.
Manchester United are in a rut as they come to a series of season-defining moments for their manager. The only question is whether they can haul themselves out of it in time.