Friday, 16 February 2018

Three important ties set to define United's season

Having suffered back-to-back away defeats for the second time this season, United's schedule only gets more intense as the team face three season-defining ties in six days, each in a different competition, before February is out. Following the losses at Tottenham and Newcastle, the Reds travel over the Pennines to Huddersfield with a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals at stake for the winners on Saturday tea time. With United 16 points off the Premier League pace, and a Champions League tilt not beyond us but highly improbable, a record equalling 13th FA Cup success looks our best remaining hope of silverware. Jose has only ever lifted the famous trophy once, with Chelsea in 2007 (ironically at the expense of United), and will attempt to guide United to the quarter-finals for a fourth successive season.

Then comes a third consecutive tie on the road - the daunting Champions League last 16 trip to Sevilla on Wednesday - before we welcome Antonio Conte's Premier League champions to Old Trafford in the league next Sunday. Conte's side may have endured an indifferent season during a campaign in which the Chelsea manager has found himself under almost permanent pressure, but they have the quality and firepower to hurt the very best and we have a poor record against the west London side. A repeat of last season's 2-0 win would be a very nice way to end the month.

 It would be foolish to write off Jose's United in Europe, with the boss bidding to become the first manager to win the competition three times with three different clubs. It will be interesting to see if the Champions League competition takes preference over domestic matters - as we saw with the Europa League campaign  - last term. Jose loves the tournament's unpredictable twists and turns, and he's bidding to become the first man to win it three times with three different clubs. But Sevilla will be a very difficult proposition and the very best that Europe can throw at us still stand in the way. It remains a gloriously unexpected opportunity, but one that's hard to envisage. Liverpool and City have set the bar high this week - albeit against sides inferior to our Spanish opponents - so United have a tough act to follow.

With so much still to play for, the Reds need to put the recent blip to the back of their minds and get back on track. Responding to a setback is a something that we've often seen in the Reds, but be wary of an unwanted record - not since the winter of discontent in 2015 have the Reds lost three successive away matches. Back then, Wolfsburg, Bournemouth and Stoke put an out-of-form United side to the sword and pushed the hapless Louis van Gaal further towards the Old Trafford exit door. With Huddersfield chasing a unique double, the Terriers of course having put the first dent in the Reds title ambitions back in October, let's hope that lightning does not, indeed, strike twice. 

 The season doesn't end in February - far from it - but the outcome from these three ties will go a long way to determine where we are at the end of it come May. Bring it on!

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