It’s getting more and more obvious that Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have placed more eggs in the Champions league basket on the Europa route. While understandable, is it wise to limit your options by focussing more on a knockout competition?
United have had their chances to finish comfortably in the top four and nobody can be under the illusions about the reasons for their predicament. They have been wasteful, full stop. When making the decision as to what must be prioritised, it essentially becomes a game of probability. The logical explanation is that the decision makers at the club believe the odds are more in favour of a Europa league triumph than top four.
Go Slow Top 4 Race
It’s like a low speed car chase. Nobody really seems to want it. While Man United have managed to throw away what seems like dozens of points – especially at Old Trafford – the others have managed to keep them in the hunt. At this point of the season, the race remains intriguingly poised and no team is really out of it. An in-crisis Arsenal have voluntarily proffered themselves as the least likely after their 3-0 humiliation at the hands of struggling Crystal Palace. Mourinho should feel the top four route is more likely now.
Both teams have two games in hand on Liverpool, but smart money will always be on points collected rather than games-to-play. The run-in will be tough and that’s a major weighting factor into the wisdom of prioritising the Europa league. United must still play Man City, Tottenham, and Arsenal away, and odds-on championship favourites, Chelsea at Old Trafford. Chelsea and Spurs must be overwhelming favourites given the poor home form of United (10th best in the league), recent Chelsea-United results, and the home record of Spurs (best in the league and unbeaten). Failure to win either of those fixtures would mean at least four points dropped in the go slow dogfight for at least a playoff spot next season. Man City and Arsenal away from home take on added significance as they are fixtures against direct rivals. Neither are particularly great at home and denying them points is just as important as winning the matches themselves.
Arsenal have a brutal run-in too; even more so. Spurs, Man United, Man City (also in the FA Cup), Everton, and in-from Leicester to come just reads as a eulogy of their run of 18 consecutive qualifications for the Champions League dating back to 1998/99. The games still have to be played, but the odds are against Arsenal, especially amidst the discontent and uncertainty overshadowing the club. This must be the year the voices get too loud for the pride of Arsène Wenger. This leaves Man City and Liverpool as rivals.