Wednesday 24 January 2018

Why Manchester United could miss out on the Champions League

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.

With the battle to finish in the Premier League top four more intense than ever, Manchester United could struggle to make Champions League football next season. Here's why.

Chelsea

Defence: Jose Mourinho’s team have plenty of pedigree in defence and only Southampton have conceded fewer goals this season. John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic have been in imperious form, while they also have two of the finest goalkeepers in Europe on their books. 9/10

Creativity: New signing Juan Cuadrado will add even more flair to the Chelsea side. Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian all create plenty of chances. 9/10

Firepower: Diego Costa is no doubt one of the post potent strikers in Europe, but Chelsea could struggle in this department if the Spain international gets injured or suspended (again). Didier Drogba and Loic Remy do not carry the same threat. 8/10

Form: Top of the Premier League and into the final of the Capital One Cup, Chelsea are high on confidence even though some of their recent performances have not matched those that were so impressive early in the season. 8/10

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Willian scored a late winner for Chelsea

Workload: Heavy, and Mourinho’s hope must be that Chelsea can build such a lead in the Premier League that he can rotate at will. FA Cup elimination to Bradford may have been embarrassing, but could yet be beneficial. 7/10

Strength in depth: Mourinho feels his senior squad is smaller than most top European teams, but still has enough quality at his disposal to cope with a Premier League title charge, combined with a Champions League campaign. 8/10

Experience: Even with the likes of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard gone, Chelsea still have Petr Cech, Terry, Ivanovic and Drogba in the squad. Cesc Fabregas has also brought a winning mentality from his time at Barcelona and with Spain. 9/10

OVERALL 58/70

Manchester City

Defence: On a run of 10 games without a clean sheet, so the uncertainty at the back is an ongoing issue. Vincent Kompany’s loss of form has been a contributory factor. 6/10

Creativity: When David Silva is on form, City perform and cut opponents open. But the Spaniard has been below par in recent weeks and Samir Nasri’s injury-enforced absence has also blunted City’s cutting edge. 7/10

Firepower: The 4-1 victory at Stoke saw Sergio Aguero end a two-month goal drought and, with £25m striker Wilfried Bony due to arrive, City’s attacking strengths will be boosted. 9/10

Form: Mixed. Dominant while drawing against Chelsea, but almost suffered a third straight home defeat against Hull City. Winning so convincingly at Stoke could be the catalyst for a late season surge. 7/10

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Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany is full of belief

Workload:Champions League clash with Barcelona could be a distraction, both mentally and physically. But out of both domestic cups, so City have a fairly stress-free fixture list over the next three months. 8/10

Strength in depth: Not quite as formidable as many would imagine. Lack quality cover at full-back and have no replacement in midfield for Yaya Toure. City fans will cover their eyes if Aguero gets injured. 7/10

Experience: Proven track record for rising to the challenge in the closing weeks of the season. City won’t be worried about a top four finish. Their target is to finish first. 9/10

OVERALL 53/70

Arsenal

Defence: Doubts over who is Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper, inexperienced Hector Bellerin filling in at right back and concerns over Laurent Koscielny’s ability to stay fit for the remainder of the season could cause Arsene Wenger’s team problems. 7/10

Creativity: This has never been a problem for Wenger’s teams and it certainly isn’t now. Mesut Ozil is regaining some of his best form, Theo Walcott is scoring goals, Santi Cazorla has been playing superbly and, of course, Alexis Sanchez has made a superb impact. 9/10

Firepower: Sanchez is the man Arsenal have relied on for goals this season, but Olivier Giroud is possibly one of the most underrated strikers in Europe while Danny Welbeck is now back. 8/10

Form: Arsenal were lucky to beat Leicester City, having lost the north London derby to Tottenham. They will need more displays like the one at Manchester City to finish in the top four. 7/10

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Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny celebrates scoring the first goal of the game

Workload: The manager doesn’t pick and choose his competitions quite like he used to, so it will be interesting to see whether Arsenal can go all out for all three trophies. 6/10

Strength in depth: The January addition of Gabriel Paulista has no doubt given Arsenal more strength in defensive positions, but injuries continue to mean Wenger rarely has all his options open to him. 7/10

Experience: Winning last season’s FA Cup finally gave Arsenal’s players a taste of lifting a trophy and Wenger's record of top-four finishes is impeccable. 7/10

OVERALL 51/70

Liverpool

Defence: Was seen as the Achilles heel earlier this season (and the end of the last one) but things have stiffened up since Brendan Rodgers adopted a 3-4-3 formation. Four clean sheets in the last five league games bode well. 6/10

Creativity: Liverpool’s strongest asset, particularly when Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling are in tandem. There is plenty of pace and vision in the Liverpool line-up. Creating chances has not been a problem, taking them has. 8/10

Firepower: Has been a weakness due to the absence of Daniel Sturridge and inconsistency of other strikers. Sturridge’s recent return should give Liverpool the cutting edge to improve their chances to goals ratio but Liverpool are still too reliant on his fitness. 7/10

Form: Again, Liverpool will rate higher than most in this category. They have lost just once in their last 13 Premier League games, of which they have won eight. This is the form of a title contender, not a side scrambling for a top four place. 9/10

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Liverpool goalscorer Mario Balotelli, pictured, was praised by assistant manager Colin Pascoe

Workload: This could become a factor. Liverpool are still in the FA Cup and have the Europa League to contend with over the next few weeks. Players have started to pick up injuries and it will be difficult to pick a consistent line-up. 5/10

Strength in depth: Liverpool certainly have a bigger squad than last season, but the debate has been whether quantity and quality are sharing the dressing room. Last summer’s recruits have started to deliver but Rodgers can not afford more injuries. 7/10

Experience: Liverpool found themselves in a situation last season where every game was considered ‘must win’ in pursuit of the title. They were beaten only once in the closing weeks and it was luck, rather than their nerve, that ultimately deserted them. Steven Gerrard will want to leave Anfield on a high and preserve Champions League football. 8/10

OVERALL 50/70

Manchester United

Defence: United rarely look solid and assured at the back, but they have not conceded more than once in a game since mid-October. Goalkeeper David de Gea has been a major factor in that impressive record. 7/10

Creativity: This is United’s big area of concern at the moment, with the team struggling to carve out chances or put opponents under pressure. Juan Mata, Angel di Maria and Wayne Rooney all falling short in this department. 5/10

Firepower: Louis van Gaal possesses a fantasy football strike-force, but in real life, none of his superstar forwards are delivering the goods. At home, United are scoring goals, but they are labouring in front of goal on their travels. 6/10

Form: One defeat in 18 games in all competitions, but United have been creaking in recent weeks. Unconvincing away from home, but they are still proving hard to beat, home or away. 8/10

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Manchester United's Robin Van Persie scored his side's third goal of the game

Workload: Should have plenty of miles left in their legs having had no European action this season. Still in the FA Cup, but no Champions League distractions to knock United off their stride or drain their energy. 8/10

Strength in depth: Debatable. A summer clear-out moved on a host of under-performing players, but their replacements have yet to prove their worth. Have withstood injury problems all season to currently lie in third position, however. 7/10

Experience: Squad does not lack experience and United should not be found wanting if it becomes tense during the run-in. Experience of Rooney, Carrick, Van Persie and Young could be key for United. 7/10

OVERALL 48/70

Southampton

Defence: The foundation for Southampton’s excellent season has been their resolute defence, which is the best in the Premier League. Ronald Koeman’s side have conceded just 17 goals in the Premier League all season, and the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jose Fonte and Nathaniel Clyne have been outstanding. 9/10

Creativity: In Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and the recent loan signing Eljero Elia, Southampton have decent creative options. When it clicks, Koeman’s team can be devastating – as demonstrated in the 8-0 drubbing of Sunderland back in October. 6/10

Firepower: After an electrifying start to life in the Premier League, the goals have dried up for main striker Graziano Pelle, who has scored just once in his last 11 matches. Tadic, Mane and Elia have chipped in with goals, but the failure to score in either of their last two home games will have concerned Koeman. 6/10

Form: Good – Southampton are joint-second in the Premier League form guide (taking in the last six games), with 13 points from the last 18 available. Dropped points at home to West Ham and Swansea have been made up for by excellent wins against Arsenal and Manchester United. 8/10

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West Ham goalkeeper Adrian saw red against Southampton

Workload: The FA Cup exit to Crystal Palace means Southampton have nothing but the league to focus on. Koeman will be hoping to emulate Brendan Rodgers’ success from last season in fully exploiting the breaks afforded to his team to prepare for matches. 9/10

Strength in depth: One of the many things that has been impressive about Southampton this season is the way they have been able to absorb injuries, with the likes of Victor Wanyama, Alderweireld and Morgan Schneiderlin all having had spells on the sidelines. Southampton’s squad is not huge, but they’ve managed to deal with injuries so far, and will hope to be able to continue doing so for the rest of the season. 6/10

Experience: Alderweireld has plenty of experience of playing at the top level from his time at Atletico Madrid, while Wanyama and Fraser Forster have played in pressure-cooker environments for Celtic. Otherwise it’s a callow squad that Koeman has to pick from. 4/10

OVERALL 48/70

Tottenham Hotspur

Defence: Spurs’ defending has improved in recent weeks, but they are certainly prone to the odd lapse – as demonstrated by the quick-fire goals conceded against Leicester and Sheffield United. Eric Dier has come in at centre-back for the last two games, but he’s yet to fully convince, and left-back Danny Rose can definitely be got at. 5/10

Creativity: Christian Eriksen has been sensational this season, and with him in the side Spurs always look capable of creating chances. Erik Lamela is also improving, but Spurs still have difficulties breaking down teams who come to White Hart lane set up to defend. 7/10

Firepower: Harry Kane has given the team a real cutting-edge in recent weeks, and seems to be scoring at will. The huge range of his goals means Mauricio Pochettino’s side, even when not on top, have a decent chance of scoring. 8/10

Form: Seven wins and a draw from their last 10 Premier League matches have put Tottenham firmly in the race for a top-four finish. The loss to Liverpool on Tuesday was a setback, but recent form has been good and a welcome departure from the early season struggles. 8/10

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Harry Kane worked with Chris Ramsey when the striker was coming through Tottenham's academy.

Workload: Spurs have a very busy schedule in the coming weeks, with the Capital One Cup final on March 1 and the resumption of the Europa League next Thursday. Pochettino’s ability to juggle his squad for and after European matches could decide whether his team finishes just inside or just outside the top four. 3/10

Strength in depth: The Tottenham bench against Liverpool contained the likes of Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend, suggesting a reasonable amount of depth to the squad. The challenge will be though when the Europa League restarts, and players like Soldado are expected to step up and contribute. 7/10

Experience: This is a very young Tottenham team, with some of the more experienced campaigners like Emmanuel Adebayor and Younes Kaboul having been largely sidelined. Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen will be expected to provide the leadership to a group of players that have largely never experienced the chase for a top four finish before. 6/10

OVERALL: 44/70

West Ham United

Defence: West Ham managed not to concede against Southampton on Wednesday, but generally have found clean sheets hard to come by in recent weeks, with three in the last 12 league matches. Sam Allardyce hasn’t been helped by injuries to central defenders Winston Reid and James Collins, which have forced Cheikhou Kouyate to play as a makeshift centre-back for the last two games. 6/10

Creativity: Stuart Downing has been a revelation this season in a more central role, and Morgan Amalfitano also provides a spark. Overall though, the West Ham midfield is primarily more combative, with Mark Noble, Alex Song and Kevin Nolan at its core. 5/10

Firepower: Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have both enjoyed promising first seasons in England, while Andy Carroll offers a useful alternative. This has been an area that has underpinned much of the side’s success this season, but Carroll's absence through injury for the next few weeks is a blow. 7/10

Form: As many expected, West Ham have fallen away a little in recent weeks, and have registered just one victory from their last eight matches. In slight mitigation, five of those matches have been against Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Southampton. 4/10

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Andy Carroll has suffered another injury blow

Workload: The Upton Park side are not involved in any European competition but remain in the FA Cup. A trip to the Hawthorns to face Tony Pulis's West Brom in the fifth round is possibly the sort of bruising encounter that Allardyce’s injury-affected squad could do without. 5/10

Strength in depth: Although undeniably stronger than in recent years, West Ham’s squad is probably the weakest of all the clubs competing for the top four. So stretched were Allardyce’s resources against Southampton, that the manager was forced to name the untested teenagers Reece Oxford,16, and Reece Burke,18, on the bench. 5/10

Experience: The likes of Nolan, Noble and Collins have plenty of Premier League experience, but none have much know how in terms of battling it out in the upper echelons of the Premier League. Song though has been involved in numerous top-four battles, including clinching Champions League qualification at West Brom in his final game for Arsenal in 2012, and his experience could be vital. 5/10

OVERALL: 37/70

Telegraph.co.uk

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