“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
For the first time in recent history, Manchester United is failing on the pitch.
United has seen its share of obstacles over the years. But this season it appears everything that could go wrong, is going wrong for the defending Premier League champions.
A managerial change, the Wayne Rooney transfer saga, a complete failure by the club during the summer transfer window, injuries to key personnel, an aging roster, underperforming players, and a complete reversal of fortunes on the pitch (officiating decisions/lucky bounce of the ball) have all combined to put Manchester United in the position they are currently in…seventh place in the Premier League; 14 points behind league leading Arsenal and (depending on Monday’s result) they could be six or seven points out of the final Champions League spot.
If the season were to end today, it’s safe to say that it would be considered a failure.
But the season doesn’t end today. In fact, a win in their next match against Sunderland on Wednesday would send Manchester United into the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
Following that contest, Manchester United plays five consecutive Premier League contests against: Cardiff City (H), Stoke City (A), Fulham (H), Arsenal (A) and Crystal Palace (A).
The BPL is the most competitive it has been in years, but four of those matches are very winnable for Manchester United; the most difficult of the pack would of course be against the league leaders at the Emirates (a team United beat earlier this year).
So over a span of five BPL matches, United play one team who are above them on the Premier League table.
During that same five game stretch, fourth place Liverpool play: Everton (H) and Arsenal (A). Fifth place Everton play: Liverpool (A), Tottenham (A) and Chelsea (A). While sixth place Tottenham play: Manchester City (H), Everton (H) and Newcastle (A).
Points will always be dropped over the course of a season. But it seems January and February is going to be quite demanding for teams competing for the Premier League’s final Champions League spot.
United fans shouldn’t kid themselves; the club has a ton of work to do between now and the end of the Premier League season. But the team has shown signs of life.
Manchester United has slowly seen their depleted squad returning to 100% health.
Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher returned to the lineup a few weeks ago, as well as right-back Rafael. Phil Jones and Ashley Young were back in the lineup against Chelsea and Manchester United was on the attack for much of the first half at Stamford Bridge (despite missing Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie).
Only a slip up by Jones and a deflection off of Carrick’s leg led to Chelsea’s first goal. Until that point, United had surprised the television pundits with their dominance of the London club.
In his post-match press conference, Jose Mourinho confessed that Chelsea were “lucky” and “did not deserve” to be up 2-0 at halftime.
But that’s just how it is in football sometimes.
What can be said, despite the media firestorm following the match, is that the 3-1 score line flattered Chelsea. United dominate possession on the road (56%-44%) and were a threat going forward without their best two attacking players.
The Red Devils lacked a cutting edge in the final third and a solid performance from their back four (who have statistically performed better than last year’s squad). United’s defense was unlocked by two set pieces: one just before the halftime whistle and the other shortly after the start of the second half.
But Rooney and Van Persie are nearing full fitness while summer signing Marouane Fellaini should be back in training soon.
>Despite all of the negativity surrounding Fellaini’s signing (and the club’s management can take the blame for United’s transfer window failings), the midfielder has not spent a great deal of time on the pitch with Manchester United since his move from Everton (11 appearances, four in the league). He suffered an injury to his wrist very early on and attempted to play through it. But the Belgian international eventually had to have surgery. Fellaini should be back on the pitch in mid-to-late February.
Television pundits have stated that Fellaini is ‘not a Manchester United player’. But to make that determination after the player spent the entire off-season with Everton and played a limited amount of games with United while battling an injury which eventually needed surgery, is overly critical and foolish.
It can also be said that Manchester United is a completely different side with Wayne Rooney in the lineup.
After his falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson last season, the 28-year-old forward has taken his game to another level while proving to his critics that he still is a world class talent.
Rooney is a player with enormous technical quality, a powerful finisher and an exceptional passer. Furthermore he is physically strong and possesses a tremendous desire to win. His absence from the starting eleven has been the catalyst for United’s recent poor performances.
But once Robin Van Persie is finally partnered with Rooney up front, Manchester United will be ready to make a serious run over the final stretch of the season; which also includes a Champions League tie against Olympiacos in March.
With Rooney and Van Persie in the lineup, Manchester United are undefeated in seven games this season (5W, 2D, 0L) and the two combined for 38 goals last year while literally dragging the club over the finish line to a Premier League title.
There’s no doubt Manchester United has failed for much of this season. But to their credit they haven’t made excuses.
The squad has slowly been returning to full strength and has been galvanized by recent events.
Darren Fletcher addressed the media circus surrounding the club: “It is as if some people have been waiting for it to happen and are really relishing it. We’ve got to use that as fuel to prove them wrong. We have got some great, talented young players in this squad. We have to keep reiterating to them that they believe in themselves. They will come through it without a shadow of a doubt and will be better and stronger for it.”
While Antonio Valencia added this: “The squad is prepared for the pressure and I think we are heading for a big period of success.”
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ~ Maya Angelou
For more Manchester United coverage, visit the Manchester United team page for news, analysis and opinion.
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