Manchester United travel to West Yorkshire to take on Huddersfield Town in the final away day of this tumultuous 2018/19 season. For sixth-place United, there’s absolutely no margin for error left in the top four race, with Chelsea still three points ahead and Arsenal in fifth. Happily, on Sunday, the Reds face a team on an even worse run of form than themselves.
After last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, United are now winless in their last four matches in all competitions. That’s the club’s worst stretch since 2015. But it should come to an end at the John Smith’s Stadium against hapless Huddersfield. Anything less than three points would be a complete disaster.
Against Chelsea a week ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side started brightly and jumped out to an early 1-0 lead through a well-worked Juan Mata goal. The lead didn’t last, though, as David De Gea spilled a swerving shot that Marcos Alonso turned in for the equalizer shortly before halftime. The end result — shared points — didn’t do much to improve United’s Champions League prospects.
After the match, the biggest talking point was De Gea’s floundering form. It’s been a rough few weeks for the Spanish goalkeeper, raising questions of whether this is just a normal slump or signs of a distracted player angling for a move to Real Madrid.
Remember: When faced with a similar situation regarding DDG and his rumored transfer back to Spain, Louis Van Gaal benched the keeper until the matter was resolved. Thanks to some fax machine gremlins, his stay on the sidelines was a short one.
Still, if any Red deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s De Gea. Who knows what will happen this summer, but this is no time to lose faith in United’s best player. Hopefully this toothless Huddersfield side will be the perfect boost of confidence for him.
Both Eric Bailly (knee) and Marcus Rashford (shoulder) left the Chelsea draw with injuries. For Bailly, his season is over — although he appears to have dodged the worst-case scenario of a full ligament tear. Solskjaer expects him back for the start of preseason.
Rashford, though, returned to training on Wednesday and might be ready for this weekend. The 21-year-old has struggled with injury in recent weeks — and only scored one Premier League goal since early February — but this misfiring United squad needs him up top for the next two matches.
Another surprise at Wednesday’s training session was Antonio Valencia. The nominal club captain, out of the lineup since January 2, might be called upon in one (or both) of the season’s final games. With United reportedly declining to extend his contract, this would be a nice send-off after a decade at the club.
Keep an eye on Tahith Chong, James Garner, Angel Gomes, and Lee O’Connor. All trained with the first team this week, sparking hope that at least one of the academy youngsters will be in Ole’s match-day squad come Sunday. Mason Greenwood misses out with an injury, but could be back for the finale against Cardiff City.
But, with all due respect to Huddersfield, it shouldn’t matter in the slightest who suits up for Manchester United. If Solskjaer selected all backups, the Reds would still be expected to win. If Huddersfield don’t add to their 14 points by season’s end, it would rank as second-worst in Premier League history. Like I said, they’re really bad.
Jan Siewert took over for David Wagner in January, but with the understanding that 2018/19 was already lost. They’ve been planning for the Championship for months. In their last 24 matches in all competitions, Huddersfield have lost 22 — and are currently on an eight-match losing streak.
Even worse, Siewert is dealing with some major injuries. Aaron Mooy sat out last week’s 5-0 loss at Liverpool and could miss this one as well. Goalkeeper Ben Hamer, Laurent Depoitre, and Philip Billing are also question marks. For a club already at a talent disadvantage, these would be big losses.
Bright spot: Karlan Grant. The 21-year-old January signing has already become the club’s top scorer. It’s not exactly a great sign that it only took four goals to accomplish that, but Grant should be a key piece next season in the Championship.
Another youngster to watch is 22-year-old Adama Diakhaby. He’s just back from a three-month layoff (hamstring) and will be eager to finish strong.
All Manchester United can do is win big on Sunday and hope that results go their way elsewhere. “I don’t think we can give up until it’s theoretically over, but it’s a big mountain to climb,” Solskjaer admitted. “We need to focus on those last two games, do our best for ourselves, win games, and see what other games throw up.”
“The end of a season throws up a few marginal decisions, strange results, so anything can happen. We still want to finish the season on a high. Let’s see where that takes us.”