A 3-0 home leg victory over St Etienne should mean that Manchester United roughly have a last 16 Europa league place sorted. Wednesday’s trip to France should be academic if recent form is anything to go by.
It was a lot closer on Sunday however with Blackburn providing the opposition in what has always been a local derby. Difficult and rainy games at Ewood Park had become synonymous with Manchester United when Owen Coyle’s team when United made regular visits there in the recent past.
It turned out to feel a bit like de ja vu when United conceded within the first quarter of an hour. Jose Mourinho’s 7 changes from the team that started on Thursday in Europe were evident in that shaky start but United have such an abundance of squad depth that the team selected was expected to get the better of the Championship relegation battlers.
As it were, Mourinho had to summon his A-list talent from the bench to put away a game that threatened to further clog United’s schedule with a replay. In the words of the men themselves, it was a ‘pogpass’ by Pogba that inevitably led to a ‘poggoal’ by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A 24th goal of the season from the Swede caps a remarkable tally six months into English football at the age of 35. He is now a genuine contender for just about every individual award come May. There is every argument for United to keep him beyond the summer regardless the happenings in the transfer window, if only because it is difficult to find a replacement of better let alone similar output in the current market.
Thankfully, United will get to play their away leg in Europe on the Wednesday, allowing for reasonable time to be recuperate for the EFL Cup final on Sunday. United’s opponents will have had a full 15 days to prepare for the game—a luxury Jose can only dream on given United’s schedule.
Ultimately, the week ahead promises a shot at glory for the club. A young squad, of United’s like can only benefit from continuous trophy success of any kind. Fans are desperate for any trophy they can win and Manchester United are still in with a shot a three. Of the trio, Sunday’s should be easiest one to collect, not because Southampton are light weight (they’re yet to concede a goal in the competition) but because they’re a few big boys in the other two who could more than match United.
For starters, in the FA Cup, United will travel to the home of the Champions elect, Chelsea in the quarter-final. United have won just twice in 15 years at Stamford Bridge. On the other hand, the Europa league is not even at its last 16 stage yet, making for a long uncertain journey between now and when the final two teams in the competition will be determined.
Factor in a premier league battle to finish in the elite positions and you can see why Sunday is an opportunity that cannot be frowned upon. In this fallow period as the club continues to come to grips with the departure of Sir Alex, any Wembley appearance should not be sniffed at. A second Cup triumph in four years post-Fergie will make for more decent reading when we eventually look back on this transition.
Hopefully, the players can translate that on to the pitch and give the fans another Wembley memory to cherish.