What can Man United hope to achieve this season?
Published 24/01/2014 | 13:00
It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse for David Moyes this season, but what can the Red Devils realistically hope to achieve this season?
To say the former Everton boss is having a difficult first season is akin to suggesting that Alex Ferguson was a successful manager.
Currently sitting in seventh position in the league, the gap between themselves and Norwich - 14 points - is the same as that between themselves and league leaders Arsenal. The Canaries it must be noted are just four points clear of the dropzone.
Falling in the FA Cup at the first hurdle with a first ever home defeat to Swansea and a dramatic exit to Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semi-final, Moyes has also had to contend with the absence of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie.
The imminent capture of Juan Mata is about the only silver ling at the moment, but just what can United expect to achieve by the end of the season?
While retaining the league was always a tall order given the departure of Fergie, failings in the transfer market and the reinforcements brought in by Chelsea, City and Arsenal in the summer, Champions League qualification was seen as the minimum. That however has changed considerably.
Tom Cleverly conceded this week that United had to re-set their goals and now a place in the top four will be the primary objective.
Currently they are six points behind Liverpool who sit in fourth and have it all to do in order to make up ground on their rivals.
Aside from a trip to the Emirates on February 12th, their next batch of fixtures is Stoke (A), Fulham (H), Crystal Palace (A), West Brom (A) before what could be a crucial game against Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Even with their indifferent form, a solid return here is crucial and with RVP and Rooney returning, Juan Mata likely to be involved and Adnan Januzaj growing into his role, they have the opportunity to put together a string of results.
A sign of the times is that fourth position now offers United their best bet at this stage with the Premier League looking increasingly like a three-horse race.
However with Everton – no team has lost fewer games than the Toffees – and a rejuvenated Spurs also in the running, it will be a close call for United to preserve their Champions League status.
There is always the possibility that United could finish outside the top four and qualify for the Champions League courtesy of landing the trophy in Lisbon this May, but even the most optimistic United fan would concede this would be not only glass half half-full thinking, but possibly overflowing.
Still the draw has been kind and Olympiakos are hardly European heavyweights. United were solid in the group stages as they remained unbeaten, with the 5-0 away victory at Leverkusen perhaps the season highlight so far.
While Moyes’ men have the joint best defensive record in the competition, their opposition was weak to say the least
The Greek side qualified from a group that contained PSG and edged out Benfica on goal difference.
Roy Carroll will face his former employers and while the squad contains Javier Saviola, Ariel Ibagaza and captain Avraam Papadopoulos, their heavy defeats to PSG (7-1 over the two games) suggests this is the end of the European road for Michel’s men.
The quarter-finals will be the minimum expected, though with the calibre of teams left in the competition, United will probably have to defy the odds to progress further.
Defeat will be tolerated given the rebuilding that is required, but an embarrassing exit could really add to the pressure at Old Trafford.