clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Some flickers of optimism amongst the wreckage of Manchester United's season

There are some flickers of optimism amongst the tatters of Manchester United season.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The 2015/16 season is over for Manchester United. Finished. End it now, please. Or that's how it felt leading up to City and - swoon - Marcus Rashford's winner before the international break. The underlying feeling, however, is still: we've been here before this season; big wins against some of the better sides followed up by drudgery where United should be hoovering up points, ultimately sliding away from a gimme of a league. An excruciating journey akin to overtaking a National Express coach with an obstinate mistrust of manual gears during which pieces of the haphazardly assembled garish body kit keep falling off.

"Football being the business of schadenfreude," the 2013/14 league season will be best remembered for Liverpool fucking it and City reeling them in, with cameos including, amongst others, Tony Pulis, Jose Mourinho and Steven Gerrard seared into the brain. David Moyes's Manchester United served up a moreish drip feed of misfortune for starved folk up until his removal late April before the title was being decided. It became increasingly obvious United under Moyes were only headed one direction. United could quite easily end up seventh and behind Liverpool again this season but the comparison with Moyes ends there. United may equally still make a nuisance of themselves, nabbing a Champions League spot at the expense of a rival, no less, and even the FA Cup. They won't. But they could.

Despite Ferguson's best partisan efforts, and even in the unlikely event of winning both Arsenal's cups in May, it's difficult to conceive Louis van Gaal being given his final contracted season. Bluntly: it has not worked out, it isn't working out. December did for him and Van Gaal was lucky to survive it. Also bluntly, so not to get bogged down, the club in its current state would have to be very sure of themselves to pass up Mourinho again. The club do not appear particularly coherent at present and fourth and a cup shouldn't dissuade them otherwise. Furthermore, citing the league's ‘unpredictability' this season as a reason to hold fire on a decision privately is absurd at this adrift stage, as such Mourinho, who looks to be all but signed, is well within his mind not to trust them and ensure he's rewarded financially in the event of further rejection.

Anyway, safely assuming a change will duly be made regardless, Van Gaal can let his hair down while still fighting, which is what everyone actually assumed they were getting in the first place. All United's traditional rivals have been played twice, most recently unexpected wins against City and the hilarious humbling of Arsenal during their year - these games would be remembered more fondly with a more tangible reward to take into next season, similarly a departing Van Gaal. There are still some good teams left to play and it would be typical of Van Gaal's United to take four points off the only two teams worthy of winning the league this year. First up before then is Everton on Sunday. The South Stand will notably become the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand in an unveiling before kick-off, mosaics, flags, the lot. Defeat to Everton would not amuse Ferguson, not least immediately after a possibly pre-emptive strike protecting his interests himself via Sky Sports this week.

Anyway, United won 3-0 in the reverse at Goodison Park featuring an impressive display from Ander Herrera and he may serve Van Gaal better than any temptation to persist with Marouane Fellaini against his old club, although Herrera is returning from a minor injury. Bastian Schweinsteiger is injured proper, a blow when a steady hand would be useful to call upon as the weather improves and minds wander. The relative security of playing at home and Everton's defence shouldn't encourage severely risk averse habits in Van Gaal, especially with Tottenham away afterwards, but it probably will. United need to beat Everton on Sunday to set up their month and to take the hit on potentially dropping points to an impressive Spurs side. A tough bonus game with West Ham away in the cup splits the league fixtures resuming against a team already essentially down in Villa and a team likely essentially safe by then in Palace, both at home.

Ferguson did touch on something worthwhile, for their assorted worth Young, Valencia, Jones and Rooney will all be returning shortly, but whether there's much to play for by then remains to be seen. Rooney in particular has been earmarked for Villa at home, conveniently, and he'll be chasing down Sir Bobby Charlton's record as well as an England start. Six goals in as many games would do it for Rooney, more games if United progress in the cup. Double his current strike rate. Few would begrudge Rooney that record, especially if it meant they could happily part ways in the summer. A second major overhaul threatens all of those coming back, but hopefully not all the young players ably providing welcome relief in their absence. Annoyingly, Ferguson's point on patience with Memphis is also correct, although look where that got him with erratic wingers.

If things go well, United might get a flicker of fun with substance out of Van Gaal at the death heading into May, at the expense of a rival and even a trip to Wembley. Van Gaal at United seems at his best when faced with adversity and in the bigger games. They're all big games for him now until the end and it'd be good to finally have some fun together. If things go badly, we'll all be hoping Arsenal don't win the league.