Monday, 16 April 2018

United's inconsistency has seen title elude us again

It would be churlish to not credit Manchester City for a campaign which has seen them be crowned fully deserved champions as Pep Guardiola's side laid down a blistering benchmark that - until last week - showed no signs of slowing down. From our perspective, it's been a campaign that started superbly with a run of form akin to our heyday as 4-0 win followed 4-0 win. It's not over yet of course, with five league games left and the prospect of an FA Cup final at Wembley awaits, should we clear the not insignificant hurdle of Tottenham Hotspur in Saturday's semi - final. Second place and a 13th FA Cup win would represent a marked improvement but the biggest prize of all - the one we want above all others - namely the league title, has eluded us once more for a fifth successive season. City have been so far ahead of not only us but everyone else that the challenge for the chasing pack next season is to close the gap between them and the rest. It's difficult to imagine Guardiola's side being this dominant again but they will remain the team to beat. Our defeat at the weekend officially confirmed them as champions, but in truth its been a formality since Christmas.

Consistency is key to any title-winning team, and for all their swashbucking brilliance that's a precious commodity that Guardiola's team have had in abundance. We may have picked up the scalps of all the league's heavyweights and beaten each of the other 19 teams for the first time since 2011, but we've dropped points in ties we shouldn't have done and that's what has proved costly. You can lose games in this league but inconsistency won't win you the title and neither will defeats to Huddersfield, Newcastle and WBA or draws to Burnley and Southampton. It's the failure to win these fixtures that have plagued our season and cast a frustrating shadow over a campaign in which there has been tangible progress. The fact we beat City and then lost to WBA one week later was a microcosm of our erratic campaign. 
The dye was cast as early as October in a run of results that would encapsulate our season. It was a topsy turvy month which started with the creditable - if infamous - draw at Anfield and ended with Anthony Martial's late winner that sunk high-flying Spurs at OT. In between those two high profile fixtures however came the unpalatable setback of a 2-1 defeat to David Wagner's side at the John Smith's Stadium. Fast forward five months and it's deja vu - the brilliant wins over Chelsea, Liverpool and Palace offset by the reverse at SJP and a two-legged horror show against Sevilla. It's all the more frustrating because we've seen what this side is capable of - on our day we have the firepower, talent and technical ability to give Europe's elite a run for their money. It's frustrating because 'our day' doesn't seem to come around often enough. I'm not sure you can coach consistency in a team or an individual player, so it begs the question whether this is an issue of mentality or attitude... I just can't put my finger on it.

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