Manchester United, earlier in the week, failed to move into the top-four places, following United’s draw with Southampton, after the respective losses of Chelsea and Leicester City presented them with the best opportunity to go up to 3rd place.
Following their drop of crucial points, it would be incredibly naïve on their part to now expect another opportunity from any more points dropped by Chelsea and Leicester at this point in the top-four race, which has only gotten tougher for United at this point.
The Red Devils won their match away against Crystal Palace 2 – 0 at Selhurst Park, moving up equal on points with 4th -placed Leicester City – but given that the Foxes won their own fixture against Sheffield, United remain out of the top four on goal difference.
It won’t get any easier for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, not even with the higher-quality opposition that Chelsea and Leicester have coming up in the form of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively.
With the next round of matches coming up, they may be one last good opportunity away from entering the top four, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at this point may need to consider the prospect of using Jose Mourinho’s gamble to get into the Champions League.
Here are two reasons why that has now become important:
1. Neither Chelsea – nor Leicester City – may afford them another opportunity to enter the top four places.
The Blues and the Foxes showed that when they both won their own respective games against Norwich and Sheffield United, respectively.
The opportunity Manchester United had against Southampton earlier in the week was, by far, the best opportunity they had all season to close the gap on the top four places.
Following their squandering of that opportunity, Leicester City and Chelsea have shown United that it’s not going to get any better for them as the remaining rounds of fixtures are, by now, down to two.
2. The United squad are plagued with fatigue and injuries.
This boils down to a lack of squad depth within the team. They may be able to field a strong starting eleven, but on the bench, they don’t have another eleven even half as strong.
It’s a key area of concern for Manchester United, which Ole Gunnar Solksjaer will need to address when the transfer window opens.
United can still qualify for the Champions League, but only if Leicester, by any statistically remote chance, slip up and they seize the opportunity.
But, with the remaining rounds of fixtures in the Premier League down to two, the chances of such happening are much lesser.
At this point, Jose Mourinho’s gamble may need to come in to salvage United’s season.
Jose Mourinho’s Gamble
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho, during his time at United as the boss, was, in his first season, in somewhat similar circumstances with United, as Solksjaer is now.
It was the late stages of the 2016/2017 Premier League.
Manchester United were out of the top-four places, with the team lacking squad depth, and stretched thin.
Qualifying for the Champions league at the point that they were, was, more or less, a near-impossibility.
But United, for all the similar flaws they had in that season, and as less inspiring as they were back then, had one wildcard: the UEFA Europa League.
The team were overstretched, due to the number of fixtures they were having to play across all competitions in that season.
Jose Mourinho realized that he needed to prioritize one competition at that point, especially in light of their objective of qualifying for the Champions League.
It was either the Premier League or the Europa League. Mourinho had realized he couldn’t actively focus on both.
And they weren’t doing too well in the Premier League. Not in the least.
So, for the Portuguese, it was more or less a rational decision. He did what he had to do. He chose to focus his resources on the Europa League.
And, while they were not very stellar then in Europe’s second-rung competition, they were more stable than they were in the Premier League.
Stable enough to knock out tough competition then such as Celta Vigo, RSC Anderlecht, and St. Etienne.
Until it came down to a final between them and Netherlands side, Ajax.
And they won.
In the event that Leicester loses their match against Tottenham and United, again, fails to take advantage, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may need to perform the gamble Jose Mourinho did with the Europa League back in 2017 to get United into the Champions League.
It’s a gamble, so while he may get lucky, he may get equally unlucky:
They’ve got tougher competition this time in the form of Wolves, FC Basel, Celtic, AS Roma, and Arsenal.
So, they could get fortunate and eliminate a few of these sides. Or they could not.
And, should they finish in 5th position and get knocked out of the Europa League, the singular lesson for them to learn ahead of the next season would be the importance of not wasting opportunities when presented with them.
And winning crucial points where they matter.
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