Four international breaks in a season is four too many for many fans but as we approach the final phase of the season it gives us the opportunity to take a step back and truly assess Manchester United’s top four chances against our closest rivals.
United’s next few fixtures have long been highlighted as the games that will define our season and even the exceptional wins over Spurs and Liverpool shouldn’t cloud the importance of these next four games. Anything less than six points from Aston Villa (h), Man City (h), Chelsea (a) and Everton (a) and the initiative gained from the most perfect of wins at Anfield will be firmly handed back to Liverpool. For Stevie G to mess it up again.
So who are our main rivals for a top four position and what can we expect over the closing weeks of the season?
Chelsea are champions. Give Mourinho a lead and you won’t see him again until he returns from his package holiday to Tenerife for pre season training. Which leaves second, third and fourth spot up grabs. For those three spots I see only four realistic candidates – Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool. People may say it’s arrogant to dismiss Spurs and Southampton but history shows otherwise. And as much as I’d love to see Tottenham or the Saints join United in the top four at the expense of City, Arsenal and the scousers you have to be realistic when looking at their remaining fixtures – one of which involves playing each other – and say they will drop more points than the rest. In fact I don’t believe either side will get within 2 points of the seventy required to have a slim chance of top four.
It’s between United, City, Arsenal and Liverpool for the three remaining Champions league spots and below is a week by week summary of how we see it panning out.
Week 31 – City 61 pts | Arsenal 60pts | United 59pts | Liverpool 54pts
United entertain Aston Villa and three points is a minimum – a sarcastic way of saying we have to win. There’s little point in beating about the bush with this one, if United can’t beat Villa at Old Trafford with the form and players we have then we’re in serious trouble.
Looking at our rivals, City play Crystal Palace away, and whilst I’d like to see them drop points again I can see City winning comfortably. City are bang out of form and playing like a group of millionaire’s who are only interested in the money – odd that for a mercenary club whose entire success is based on throwing vast amounts of money at things – but they have the easier run in and I can’t see where they’re going to drop enough points to ever be in danger of finishing outside the top two.
Then Arsenal entertain Liverpool. United fans have mixed opinions on what result they want from this game but to be honest, as long as United beat Villa it doesn’t really matter. Personally, I always want Liverpool to lose and I think when you look at the remaining fixtures a Liverpool win would be a concern.
Week 32 – City 64 pts | Arsenal 63pts | United 62pts | Liverpool 54pts
The Manchester Derby and another week where two of the four contenders go head to head. Liverpool entertain Newcastle and with the roll over kings already save from relegation it’s guaranteed that the scousers will boost their confidence and goal difference with a comfortable home win. Whereas Arsenal make the trip north to Burnley. Burnley are fighting for their lives and could cause an upset but Arsenal are much improved away – where are Bolton when you need them – and I’d expect them to pick up maximum points.
Which leaves us with the Derby. If it was being played this weekend I’d go for a United a win, City are poor and United are buzzing. But a week’s a long time in football and boosted by a good win over Palace I think City will come to Old Trafford with a point to prove. And funnily enough, come away with a point.
Week 33 – City 65 pts | Arsenal 66pts | United 63pts | Liverpool 57pts
Another difficult game week for United as we visit Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. With City entertaining West Ham at the Emptihad, Arsenal hosting Sunderland and Liverpool away to Hull I predict three wins for our rivals so anything we can come away with against Chelsea will be a bonus.
I expect Van Gaal to have United well drilled and if we go down there and perform like we did at Anfield we can beat anyone. The problem is United have a terrible record against Chelsea and as much as I think we have the players to go toe to toe with what will be the league champions I can see a bad decision or two going against us and Chelsea taking all three points.
Week 34 – City 68 pts | Arsenal 69pts | United 63pts | Liverpool 60pts
If results have gone as I’ve predicted, Arsenal and City will have more or less secured their top four status by now leaving it a straight fight between us and Liverpool. To further evidence why I don’t think City were ever seriously part of the race for top four, they entertain Aston Villa at home this week and will collect another easy three points at home. Arsenal host Chelsea at the Emirates, and whilst it goes against the grain I actually expect Arsenal to win this and all but secure the top four cup for another year – expect lots of excited Arsenal fans taunting Fabregas because they’ve secured Champions League football again. This despite the fact Fabregas will win be lifting the Premier League trophy in a couple of weeks time.
Liverpool travel to West Brom and United face Everton this week and I think this could be THE defining week in our two way battle for fourth place. If either side wins then it could be a crucial advantage with only four games left so from a United point of view the important thing is to at least match the Liverpool score. I’d hope that West Brom will be well drilled by Tony Pulis so I’m going for a draw for Liverpool in their game leaving United more than capable of getting a point at Goodison Park.
Week 34 – City 71 pts | Arsenal 72pts | United 64pts | Liverpool 61pts
Liverpool play QPR at home and whilst it’s guaranteed that QPR will be in desperate need of the points to stay up, if you’re a gambler get your money on a Liverpool home win by at least two clear goals. United host West Brom at Old Trafford and whilst anything is possible in football this is a game we will have to win and I’m confident we will win – again cancelling out the scousers result.
Man City go to Spurs, where I think they’ll win. A lot of United fans think City will get dragged in to the battle for the top four but I think they’ll finish strongly – which is a good thing because it should mean them keeping the inept Pellegrini for another year. Arsenal are away to Hull, who like QPR should be fighting for their lives and willing to lay their bodies on the line for every point they can get. Which is why I think Arsenal will win comfortably…
Week 35 – City 74 pts | Arsenal 75pts | United 67pts | Liverpool 64pts
This is the week where if results go to plan United can secure their top four spot. Much will depend on Chelsea’s predicament so the hope will be that they haven’t secured the title yet as they entertain Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. If they need to win I have no doubt Chelsea will brush Liverpool aside and do us a massive favour. If they’ve already won the title by this point then that’s where it becomes an issue. Anyone who remembers 2010 when Chelsea went to Anfield and Liverpool let them win to stop United winning the league will be aware how this could play out if Chelsea don’t need the points. I’m going to be positive though and predict a Chelsea win.
Arsenal and City have home bankers against Swansea and QPR respectively, leaving United with an away game against Crystal Palace. Palace will be safely on the beach by the time this game comes around, so with nothing more than pride to play for – there shouldn’t be much of that about from Palace players who will be far more focussed on a few weeks in Barbados – United should have the drive and quality to get the win they need.
Week 36 – City 77 pts | Arsenal 78pts | United 70pts | Liverpool 64pts
With two games to go it should all be over barring two miraculous results from Liverpool and two major losses by United swinging goal difference in the scousers favour. Liverpool play Crystal Palace at home so a cricket score is possible, however United entertain Arsenal at Old Trafford and I’d fully expect both teams to do the decent thing and play out an exhibition style draw that suits both sides. If for some reason Arsenal get ahead of themselves and decide to go for it to secure second place they’ll find out what happens when you stick your hand in a bee’s nest. Because United will sting them hard. The only issue we’ll face after this game is that at the end of it we’ll have secured our fourth place spot. With Arsenal in town I really hope there’s no formal handing over of the fourth place cup. Let’s show some class please. Fourth place is what we wanted but it’s a stepping stone to better things. We’re not Arsenal!
City face a trip to Swansea and again I’d expect them to win.
Week 37 – City 80 pts | Arsenal 79pts | United 71pts | Liverpool 67pts
The final game of the season and everything should be done and dusted by this point. Fingers crossed Van Gaal will be able to play some of the kids like McNair, Blackett, Januzaj and Perreira for our trip to Hull and we may even be able to help Brucey out if he needs a point. Liverpool go to Stoke and although I’d expect Stoke to get something out of the game, the fact that it won’t matter if Liverpool win ten nil means I’m going to be generous and let them have the three points.
Arsenal and Man City finish off with games against West Brom and Southampton and with the typical last day of the season, sun shining, party atmosphere both should get all three points.
Week 38 – City 83 pts | Arsenal 82pts | United 72pts | Liverpool 70pts
The final standings then and as predicted it’s as it is now. United fans not happy with that really needs to take a couple of minutes out and think about the amount of bad games we’ve had this season. Fourth place is all that matters and if we get it then we’re back in the Champions League where we belong.
Like I say, I’d take it now. Enjoy the ride!