February is an important month for Manchester United and their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League. Not because they’re playing the other teams competing for a top-four finish. Or because they’re facing the Premier League’s best sides.
It’s because next month they will play four games, all against teams they should be beating. Despite a brief flirtation with a title challenge before Christmas, United aren’t going to win the league this season. Chelsea and Manchester City will fight it out for that particular honour.
Instead, Van Gaal‘s side will battle with Arsenal, Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham for a place in next season’s Champions League. United had looked almost certain to finish in the top four after a six-game winning run in November and December.
But just two wins from their last six league games have left them in fourth, just a point ahead of Arsenal in fifth. The run-in might be a little more fraught than Van Gaal was hoping.
Fortunately for the Dutchman, United’s destiny is still in their own hands. But it was around this stage of the season when that luxury began to slip away from David Moyes. And after defeat to Everton at Goodison Park in April, a result that made it mathematically impossible for United to finish fourth, he was sacked.
That’s unlikely to happen to Van Gaal even if he does miss out on the Champions League. A good run of form through February would make that a moot point, anyway.
Next month, United play West Ham away, Burnley at home, Swansea away and Sunderland at home. They are games they need to win if they are going to play in Europe’s top club competition next season.
But it’s their results against the so-called lesser teams that have left United in this position in the first place. Defeats away to Manchester City and at home to Southampton were disappointing.
But they’ve also dropped points against Swansea at Old Trafford and away to Sunderland, Burnley, Leicester, West Brom, Aston Villa and Stoke. Forget the results against Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton and Tottenham.
If United had won those seven games, of which two were defeats and five were draws, they would have an extra 16 points and be sitting top of the table, four points clear of Chelsea.
It is, of course, all hypothetical. But it just goes to show that it’s not necessarily the results against the big teams that are the most important.
United play four games in February and, with players like Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao, they should win them all. It’s vital to their Champions League hopes that they do.