Three consecutive goalless draws are hardly the ideal preparation for Manchester United’s trip to face Man City this weekend.
It’s hard to take many positives from the last week of action, perhaps the biggest one is that United’s league slump hasn’t been punished by those around them in the division.
The tame draw at Selhurst Park in midweek was at least softened by Leicester’s dropped points at Burnley earlier in the day as well as their weekend defeat by Arsenal, leaving United in second-place despite their drastic drop in form.
It became clear with their February collapse that United’s best hope for the campaign would be to finish ‘best of the rest’ and end their four-year wait for silverware with glory in the Europa League and/or FA Cup. Even amid a slump that scenario is still very much alive.
Indeed, if you’d have asked supporters if they’d have taken United’s current situation before a ball had been kicked many of them probably would have.
The issue right now is the mitigation: Manchester City are a class above every other team in the Premier League and United have risen to the top of an inconsistent bunch of hopefuls in the gully below them – they can’t afford any complacency.
A big dilemma for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is how he plans to inject life back into the squad and ensure heads don’t drop at the realisation second-place is the best they can hope for this season.
Last year it was United who defied the odds to embark on an incredible run of form which secured them a third-place finish in the top-flight – now they could be set for a taste of their own medicine if the inconsistent run continues.
At this stage last season United were fifth in the table and nine points off their eventual third-place finish, they’d be foolish to assume Champions League qualification is already in the bag even if it’s seemed a certainty since before Christmas.
With 11 games left of the league season United know another poor run of results could soon see them overtaken by the likes of Leicester, West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool end Everton as the race for the top-four heats up.
Losing out on Champions League qualification would be a huge blow to Solskjaer ahead of another tricky summer window in which the manager is already expecting limited first-team investment.
“There are going to be less and less transfers happening with all these changes,” he warned earlier in the week. “The lack of income, the finances has affected everyone. We have to be realistic and responsible in the way we do business on and off the pitch.
“There are improvements on the training ground, the stadium – we have to look at the whole picture. Where can we spend money? And how much is there? It’s just the real world now.”
Not only would the lack of Champions League football make player recruitment harder this summer but it could also have a detrimental affect of player retention.
Hopes of a new deal for Paul Pogba would be further complicated by another season in the Europa League while talisman midfielder Bruno Fernandes is hardly going to be happy missing out on Champions League football in the prime of his career.
Last year United saved their season by preying upon others’ complacency to secure a top-four finish, a year on it could be the same complacency which ruins their season – and transfer plans – too.