“There were no injuries and one less match to play because in this moment the Premier League for us is just matches we didn’t want to play,” said a woeful Jose Mourinho after suffering a 2-1 defeat to the Lilywhites after their final game at the White Hart Lane.
That weekend also saw Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, all registering wins against their respective opponents. As of now, United are placed a massive 7-points away from the top four with just 2 games to spare this season in the league- thus officially ending their chase for the top 4. Jose always insisted he was going to fight for the top 4 until it was mathematically possible. Well, not anymore.
But where did it all go wrong for United?
Until the Arsenal game at the Emirates last week, United were on a 25-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, believe it or not. And a top 4 finish wasn’t exactly improbable. Rather, it was widely predicted by the pundits that a top 4 finish and the Europa League trophy both, were easily attainable. And all of us thought that the Chelsea win was a turning point in the season, when Mourinho’s genius had become more prominent than ever.
But then came the Mancunians’ demise. 2 back-to-back draws against city rivals and relegation threatened Swansea, followed by 2 back-to-back defeats against the two North London clubs ensured that qualifying for UCL through the Premier League was now a lost cause. Yes, the obvious justification being that the team played all of those games just 3 days after our European ties. Nonetheless, that says something about the team.
But the truth of the matter is that this is not Jose’s team. Yes, he made 4 signings in the summer. But it takes times to get over a long-term relationship with a Dutch partner. Shades of Van Gaal are still pretty evident. And players like Martial and Darmian have been unable to adapt to the new system, part reason for their underwhelming performances this season.
That is not to say that United’s performance in the Europa League this season, as a result, has been extraordinary. Certainly not. A 2-1 victory against Rostov, 3-2 against Anderlecht, and 2-1 against Celta Vigo- saw United barely scraping through those rounds. Yes, injury tormented. Yes, fixture congested. All of that considered, United haven’t really, as Jose loves to put it, ‘killed games’ instantly.
So this makes me, and a greater part of the fan base think: Was it right for him to give up on the Premier League? Surely, it needs no explanation that we, or any team for that matter, would prefer a European trophy to a fourth-placed finish in the league. But I am forced to consider a dreadful possibility. Brace yourselves.
What if we fail to win the final?
Ajax is a good team with fresh talent. We have experience, but they have nothing to lose. We go in as the favourites. They go in to spoil the party. And mind you, it took only class and hard work for them to make it this far in the competition; so definitely not for the lack of merit.
If we fail to see this through, the club could still buy most players it wants (most; also read: Griezmann/James). But that accounts for a massive financial set-back, and yet another season without UCL. And then, Jose would have underachieved. With defensive casualties and Bailly, our defensive rock suspended; and of course without the Swedish Hero at the Friends Arena, our options might yet be limited.
But all of that is just me exploring the possibilities, and in all likeliness, we probably may come out winners from the game on the 24th; but all that I have to say, is that it’s a lot riding on one game.