Manchester United has probably experienced one of the best moments since Louis van Gaal took over in the summer of 2014, after recording four successive victories in three different competitions. For a moment, it seemed as though all hopes were back up with a potential slot in the top four alongside possible successes in the Europa League and the FA Cup.
However, after a moment of madness from one of Manchester United’s unsung heroes, Juan Mata, resulted in him being sent off against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League Match played at the Hawthorns on Sunday, it now remains to be seen whether or not this will be a similar story to what we have witnessed in the last few months, a few steps forward followed by a major step backward.
Nonetheless, Louis van Gaal was quick to point to how Ccritical Juan Mata’s “not so smart” decision was, before highlighting the fact that playing 10 men against 11 in the fifth match in 14 days was never going to be easy.
“We have played 60 minutes with 10 against 11 and this is the fifth match in 14 days, I believe. So it is very difficult to play against 11 players. I think that’s the reason that we lost this game because we didn’t give many chances away, not in the first half or in the second half when we played with 10 players – the only chance was more or less the goal. So what can I say? It’s a big pity that we have to play with 10 men against 11.”
That’s the kind of scenario Manchester United finds itself in right now. After enjoying a positive midweek matchday where all of the rivals around it lost points, Manchester United slipped back to the sixth position following the loss to West Bromwich Albion. On the other hand, West Ham United climbed above Manchester United into the fifth spot, while Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City, and Leicester City all pulled a few points above the Red Devils.
Manchester United’s latest defeat means that the club’s best route to a return to the Champions League is now via winning the Europa League. Currently, Manchester City, who are placed fourth in the Barclays Premier League table, have three points ahead of their neighbors, but still have a game in hand which could help them stretch the gap between them and Manchester United to six points.
Manchester United will travel to Liverpool on Thursday to face their fierce rivals in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg match. A few days ago, this match did not seem to be very important to Manchester United after climbing to joint fourth with Manchester City in the Premier league, and to within just four points of third-place Arsenal.
However, Manchester United must now win the overall tie to keep hopes of playing in next season’s UEFA Champions League. Even Louis van Gaal knows it. When asked by the media with regard to Manchester United’s chances of finishing in the top four, van Gaal answered.
“It’s a big blow. You have always chances but I have said in advance: these [kinds] of matches you have to win, especially when you need to close the gap because you have lost too many games before.”
Manchester United’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion could not have come at a worse time. The club was in a good run of games and could have been a lot more optimistic going into Thursday’s game against Liverpool had they won today. In addition, Manchester United will not be playing another league match until March 20, when they face their city rivals, Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. By then, Manchester City, who will play against Norwich city next weekend, could have already pulled six points above Manchester United.
[Photo via ManUtd.com]