It is no secret that Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Unparalleled success in England, huge fan base and footprint all over the world and one of the best revenue earners in the game – name any parameter, Manchester United stay somewhere near the top. So, when they failed to qualify for Europe last season, it sent shock waves around the club.
But, what it also did is to reduce the interest in Champions League this season. The numbers may not be out or they may not tell the same story. But, experts, fans and players alike agree to the fact that Champions League isn’t the same without powerhouse United. And that exactly is the reason why Louis van Gaal arrived at the club.
The mandate for the Dutch strategist is simple; get United into Champions League. Money was flashed and players of the highest pedigree (read Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo) arrived. The weight of expectations was always going to be a precursor to how it will pan out for van Gaal; and the start was definitely tough.
With the business end of the season approaching, United are yet to convince of progress made. They are not challenging for honors – theoretically they are still in the race but van Gaal will be the first to admit that United won’t win Premier League this season. Pragmatically, van Gaal is more worried about staying in the top four when the last day of the season comes.
Now, let’s look at the chances of Red Devils finishing in the Champions League qualification places. On current form and positions, Chelsea and Manchester City look all but nailed with their qualification to Europe. They are of course the only two of the top four fighting for the title. That leaves with only two places up for grabs.
Southampton, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are fighting for those two places. We can safely write off the chances of Tottenham Hotspur though they are still with a sniffing chance. Liverpool is currently in the midst of a great run of games having not lost since December. The next round against Manchester City could well be the ‘make or break’ game for them; though they will still have time and games to catch up.
Arsenal always finds time and points at the right time to end up qualifying for Europe. They never seem to compete for trophies (at least not in the recent memory) but scratch their way to top four. With a not-so-bad set of matches waiting for them in the run-in, Arsenal have more than a chance to continue their record of Champions League qualification.
Southampton is the surprise package of the season and may well continue to baffle experts; because of their easy fixtures list. That leaves van Gaal, with a not-so-favorable fixtures list, stretching every bit of his players to make sure of European qualification. Will he be able to do, is a question that will run to full house the rest of the season.