Manchester United are challenging on all fronts but could end up regretting it in their bid for Champions League football.
Manchester United are the only English team remaining in four competitions this season. Not many would’ve predicted that after Erik ten Hag’s disastrous opening two results… But while it’s a refreshing surprise for United supporters, it could prove more damaging than not if they fail to end their six-year trophy drought.
The Red Devils haven’t lifted silverware since Jose Mourinho’s first season as manager, their last success being the Europa League in May 2017. Earlier that same season, Mourinho guided the club to a fifth EFL Cup after an exhilarating 3-2 win against Southampton at Wembley Stadium.
It was a dream start to his era at Old Trafford, and Manchester City’s shock quarter-final exit has opened the door for Ten Hag to enjoy the same early success. United now know they must navigate past a two-legged semi-final against relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest to book their first Wembley date since the 2018 FA Cup final – a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea.
A fascinating clash with Newcastle United or a rematch with Southampton would then await in the EFL Cup final. Newcastle are enjoying a good season, but United are strong favourites for a reason.
However, the Old Trafford giants’ deep run, combined with their continued Europa League and FA Cup campaigns, could hinder one of Ten Hag’s main objectives to qualify for the Champions League. The semi-final legs against Forest mean United face up to six more games in four different competitions in January, just over every three days.
Among the frantic schedule are high-profile clashes with Manchester City and Arsenal in the Premier League, as well as an FA Cup fourth-round encounter with Reading.Ten Hag’s squad management will fall under a stern test, and United’s EFL Cup run could prove to be a curse rather than a blessing if they don’t capitalise on their favourite status.
Worst case scenario, the M16 outfit can’t handle the load and will be out of both cup competitions by the end of January and in a worse position in the top-four race.
But Ten Hag, who has guided United to 15 wins in their last 18 games, will be confident of remaining in a strong position on all fronts ahead of February’s Europa League knockout play-off tie against Barcelona.
If he’s to succeed at Old Trafford, he will have to become accustomed to the relentless fixture list that comes with helming a side that can consistently challenge for trophies.