Since Manchester United’s relative decline in recent years after Fergie decided to hang up his long outdoor coat, Old Trafford has not often been the place where titles have been won and lost when the crucial spring months of the season have rolled by. Yet this season, especially in regard to a title race including United’s two biggest rivals, it looks like ‘the theatre of dreams’ will once again be the main stage for what looks set to be one of most exciting ends to a premiership campaign ever.
Manchester United, who at the time of writing are about to play at the Nou Camp to try and pull off some second leg wizardry for the second time this season, host both Manchester City and Chelsea in back to back games towards the end of the month. A mid week visit of Manchester City on the 24th (which comes just after three days after an away trip to Everton) is followed by the visit of Chelsea on Sunday the 28th. The former of these games will be seen as one of the most significant Manchester derbies in recent memory while the latter is a huge game in regard to the top four race this season.
By hosting City at this stage of the season, United hold the unenviable task of potentially playing a key role in which of their bitter rivals will win the title this year, as they themselves lie 21 points from top spot. Many Liverpool fans have jested that United may choose to essentially roll over and opt for the lesser of two evils in letting City win a game which at that stage would be Pep Guardiola’s sides toughest domestic test left. However, seeing the blue half of Manchester potentially go for back to back premiership titles and an outrageous quadruple this season isn’t exactly sunshine and roses in the park either. And there’s also the small matter of the fact that United need every point they can get if they want play against the likes of Barcelona next season.
Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford a few days after City’s tops of a brutal run of four games in twelve days for United, with all four fixtures surely being seen as essentially must win if United are to have anything like a satisfactory season. Defeat versus Chelsea or even dropping points could prove to the difference between fourth place and sixth, in a season where many predicted them to challenge Man City all the way under Jose Mourinho. And with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s memorable honeymoon period as manager officially over as well as the likely prospect of an upheaval of the playing squad in the summer, United perhaps need that Champions League birth as much or even more than the other trio of sides vying for it.
Many in the media and the public alike have focused on United’s ability to derail City’s or Liverpool’s title ambitions however United perhaps need to focus on their own ambitions under a manager who still has it all to prove despite a phenomenal start to life as boss. United surely need to prioritise on achieving their short term own goals this season rather than affecting those of others. A tepid first leg performance versus Barcelona showcased how Manchester United need to learn how to aim high again. As with the current company they keep on domestic and European plains, only the best in every department is likely to see them compete let alone dominate like they did under Ferguson.
Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Old Trafford isn’t a just rock and hard place opportunity to stop either Liverpool or Manchester City winning the league, it’s a league game that United have to win. Because as surreal as this season has been for them, it could still end up being a very poor one for a club that constantly strives to use the glories of old to build its future in a hyper competitive football arena.
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