What better way to get your season back on track than by beating your fiercest rivals?
Manchester United v Liverpool, Sunday 20 October, 3pm, Sky Sports Premier League/HD (CH 512/502)
Empires crumble, dynasties fall and once-successful football clubs lose that winning touch. For Manchester United, these are worrying times. This season has been a major disappointment for the club, with dodgy results and even dodgier performances putting their chances of a respectable finish very much in jeopardy.
Up next for them in the Premier League? That’ll be a clash with rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford, live on Sky Sports. Nice and straightforward, then. A victory over their arch enemies would give manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, his players and the fans a massive boost. A loss could just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Right now, securing a spot in the top six would represent a solid campaign for United. But are they even capable of achieving that? Here, two of our writers argue it out…
Will Man Utd finish in the top six?
Alex Finnis: YES! They can only get better
They’ve shown they can mix it with the best
Yes, United have already had a number of disappointing results this season – including defeats to West Ham and Crystal Palace, and a draw with Southampton – but they’ve also hammered Chelsea, beat Leicester and drawn away at Wolves. Taking points off these types of teams is vital as they will likely be United’s competition for a top-six spot come April. When the season reaches boiling point these results count double, and will also give this young team confidence when the reverse fixtures come around.
The young talent will only improve
It can take young teams a while to gel, and a number of United’s key starters, including Marcus Rashford, Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira are aged 23 or younger. The longer they play together, the better understanding and sense of camaraderie they’ll have. Undoubtedly, the talent is there for this young core to convert into wins on the pitch. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has proven he is committed to giving youth a chance, and won’t just abandon his project because of a few poor results.
Solskjaer has a history of pulling off miracles
We all remember that famous game that got Solskjær the full-time job in the first place. Two goals down from the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain – a European superpower – United had it all to do in Paris. No one gave them a chance. Within two minutes, Romelu Lukaku had given them the lead, and within 30 he had retaken it after Juan Bernat’s leveller. Marcus Rashford’s injury-time penalty capped off an historic Champions League night for United, and put Solskjær in the hot seat. He found a miracle to get the job, who’s to say he can’t find another to save it?
Jack Prescott: NO! The players and manager aren’t good enough
The squad is astonishingly average
That awful stench currently emanating from Old Trafford is United’s squad. It’s as mediocre a collection of footballers the club has cobbled together in many, many years. Sure, there’s talent in there, twinkling like diamonds in landfill. But for every Marcus Rashford and David de Gea there’s a litany of chronic underperformers like Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, Phil Jones, Juan Mata and Fred, who cost £52 million. Remember him? The standard of personnel has dropped so dramatically, United should be pleased to finish in the top ten, let alone the top six.
Ole ain’t the man
The Norwegian is so out of his depth, he’s at risk of stubbing his toe on the Titanic. It’s not that Solskjær is a bad manager, because he isn’t. However, managing one of the biggest football clubs in the world requires tactical conviction, an ability to provide inspiration when the chips are down and a ruthless, forward-looking mentality. Ole has none of that. Should things continue as they are, he’ll be gone by Christmas. The next managerial appointment will be the most crucial the club has made in the post-Ferguson era, because the fans really are at the end of their wick.
Beware of the Foxes
Let’s assume Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal will all finish in the top five. Because none of those clubs – not even the traditionally flaky Gunners – are plagued with ineptitude quite like United. With their exciting brand of football, and with a more than capable manager at the helm, Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City side looks more likely to finish sixth than the Red Devils as it stands. As wild as it sounds, if United aren’t careful, they could be caught napping and finish (take a deep breath and hold onto a wall to steady yourself) seventh.
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