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Analysing Manchester United's remaining fixtures and their chances of finishing in the top four | Premier League 2019-20

  • Manchester United are desperately chasing a top four spot in the Premier League, but can they do it? We analyse their upcoming games here.
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Feature
Modified 02 Mar 2020, 17:52 IST

Can Manchester United finish in the top 4 for the first time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?
Can Manchester United finish in the top 4 for the first time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

It’s been a funny old season for Manchester United; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have been perhaps the most inconsistent in the entire Premier League, capable of producing some incredible results; they were the only team to take a point from Liverpool for some time, and have wins over Chelsea (twice), Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City to their name. Unfortunately, the Red Devils have also suffered losses to the likes of Burnley, Watford, Bournemouth and West Ham United.

Had they been more consistent, they’d probably be well inside the top four already; as it is, they currently sit in fifth, and while that may be enough to qualify for the Champions League due to the Manchester City’s likely ban from the competition, there can be no doubt that Solskjaer will be desperate to finish in the top four anyway.

But can United do it, particularly when there are so many sides competing for that all-important top-four spot? Here, we take a look at their chances of breaking back into the Premier League’s elite.

Past Form

United’s form has been up-and-down since the start of 2019-20; this is evidenced quite clearly by their last six matches, which have seen them lose two, win two and draw two. Incredibly, the Red Devils have never won more than two matches in a row in the current campaign, but on the flip side, they’ve never drawn or lost more than two in a row either.

Most curiously, Solskjaer’s side have actually been far more potent against the Premier League’s better sides. Against their fellow ‘Big Six’ teams, the Red Devils have been able to win four games and draw two, while losing just two. If you add Leicester City into that equation due to their current lofty position, United gain another victory.

On the flip side of that, United have losses to West Ham, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Watford this season – all of whom could be in very real danger of relegation. So what’s the reason for this? Well, it comes down to Solskjaer’s tactics.

Early in the season, United were set up as a counter-attacking side, allowing their opponents to come onto them before hitting them on the break with the raw pace of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial. This probably goes some way to explaining why they were able to do damage against the Premier League’s better sides, while their lack of creativity explains their trouble against sides willing to sit deeper.

However, the arrival of January signing Bruno Fernandes has given the Red Devils a much-needed injection of creativity, and now Solskjaer’s side may be much more capable of breaking down a stubborn defence. Their own defence remains somewhat questionable though, and so results such as last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Everton are always possible.

Remaining Fixtures

United have 10 matches remaining, and to say they have a mixed bag ahead of them would be an understatement. Their next game – against rivals Manchester City – sounds like their trickiest, but they also have matches against Tottenham (away), Sheffield United (home) and Leicester City to contend with, with all of those sides also chasing Champions League football.

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The Red Devils also have to contend with four of the Premier League’s strugglers in the form of Brighton (away), Bournemouth (home), Aston Villa (away) and West Ham (home). Usually, you’d expect a side chasing a top-four spot to win those types of matches comfortably, but given their inconsistency and the desperate need for those teams to claim points, each one of those fixtures could represent a banana skin.

Their other remaining games – against Southampton (home) and Crystal Palace (away) might seem like the easiest fixtures for United, then, as both sides seem safe and yet aren’t likely to gain a European place, meaning they have the least to play for.

In their previous fixtures against those 10 teams, Solskjaer’s men collected a total of 15 points. If they were to repeat that feat, then they’d finish on 57 points, but those 15 points included wins over Leicester, Tottenham and Manchester City, something that doesn’t feel likely to happen again.

With that said, the injection of the creative Fernandes might mean they pick up more points against the lower sides, even without the services of their best forward in Rashford.

Verdict

As has been the case practically all season, it feels like the only thing that’s for sure about Manchester United is that nothing is for sure. Solskjaer’s men seem to have just as much chance of winning all 10 of their remaining fixtures as they do losing all 10.

However, the addition of Fernandes cannot be understated when it comes to the Red Devils’ ability to open up stubborn defences – and the likelihood is that at least half of their remaining opponents will look to sit deep and frustrate United rather than go toe-to-toe with them.

If United can collect maximum points, or can take at least seven from their next three fixtures – Manchester City, Tottenham and Sheffield United – then that could bode well for them when it comes to a top-four finish. The worrying thing for Solskjaer though has to be their form against strugglers – and they have to face four of them, more than their nearest rivals outside of Wolves who also face four relegation candidates.

Overall, United fans can probably afford to feel hopeful, particularly if Fernandes keeps up his current form, but slip-ups against some of those struggling sides – or a bad result against Tottenham or Leicester – could well scupper them yet.

Basically, the Red Devils can take nothing for granted going forward and will need to be at their best to make next season’s Champions League.

Published 02 Mar 2020, 17:52 IST
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