Back in December, following Manchester United’s disappointing 3-1 defeat away to Liverpool at Anfield, a top-four finish seemed like the stuff of fantasy. Jose Mourinho had just been sackedand the Red Devils were already 11 points adrift of fourth-ranked Chelsea.
Fast forward half a dozen games to the end of January and new boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer had guided his men to within three points of fourth place, and Champions League qualification suddenly felt like the inevitable outcome. United were unstoppable – weren’t they?
But reality has a habit of biting just when you least expect it, and that is what happened last Sunday. After their heroic European comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, the Old Trafford side slumped to a lacklustre 2-0 defeat against Arsenal, their main rivals for fourth place.
Arsenal had just had a poor week in Europe and many were predicting an easy afternoon for the visitors, but the game could not have gone much worse. As a result, United are back down in fifth place and could be sixth by the time Chelsea play their game in hand. If the Londoners do win their spare game, there will be four teams within three points of each other in the battle for third and fourth place.
All still to play for
All four contenders could still qualify for the Champions League by winning their respective European tournaments. However, if Arsenal win the Europa League and Tottenham Hotspur win the Champions League, but both fall out of the top four, there would only be three more Champions League spots available and fourth place would miss out. So things could still get even more complicated.
For United, the only sensible option is to keep pushing to finish as high as possible in the league, while also giving the Champions League their best shot and see where they end up. After all, they have already exceeded expectations based on where they were back in December.
United behind in the betting
As things stand, the bookies have Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea ahead of United in the top-four finish football betting markets. The Manchester club is priced at 6/4 just behind Chelsea, who are evens to get the job done. Spurs have suffered a real slump in form losing four and drawing one of their last five, but are still favourites to take the first of the vacant spots behind Liverpool and Manchester City.
In terms of the league, the key week for United is likely to come at the end of April when they host Manchester City and Chelsea in the Space of four days. If they can win both of those games you would expect them to be a strong position heading into the final two winnable games away to Huddersfield and at home to Cardiff City.
Whatever the outcome, the job that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has done since agreeing to take charge on a temporary basishas been remarkable. After a few years of disappointment and frustration, he has given fans a reason to believe once again.