“Dave Saves” has kept Manchester United in so many games and won them so many points over the years, but that rare single lapse in concentration from de Gea at the Emirates on Sunday could not have come at a worse time.
It was a game that United should have and could have won, a game of narrow margins, a game that was always going to be decided by a flash of brilliance, a stroke of luck, a controversial decision or a costly error. In the end, the last two both served to rob United of a point that could be crucial to their hopes of a top four finish, because it would have been a point that left that outcome still in their own hands. But now they lie in fifth place, with the worst goal difference of all the top six sides, and with Chelsea two points behind and a game in hand. What was beginning to feel like an inevitability now looks set to be a really tough battle.
So, is it time to panic, or can United still do it? It’s all about two teams from four, with Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea joining Solskjaer’s men in the battle for the third and fourth spots. Who has got the easiest run-in? What needs to happen in order to see Champions League football at Old Trafford next season? And will Chris Smalling’s “dead tarantula stuck to the back of his head” win the Premier League’s worst haircut award?
Well, first, sadly, a betting man or woman would have to now put Arsenal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s “wall of pubes” haircut in one of those top four spots on May 12th. They have no more games against other “big six” sides in their run in. Two tricky away fixtures against Wolves and Everton are, on paper at least, their most difficult remaining games. United also have to travel to Molineux and Goodison, but they’re by no means their toughest games, with Chelsea and Manchester City still to come to Old Trafford.
The good thing about Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford is that it means that finishing above them is still in United’s own hands. The Blues also have an extra game to play, and a tricky visit to Anfield to negotiate. Their unpredictability under Maurizio Sarri leaves you thinking they will drop points elsewhere as well, so there is every reason to stay positive that in the horrible hair battle, Smalling will finish ahead of David “Sideshow Bob” Luiz.
This leaves Spurs, and Dele Alli’s furry cycle helmet, as the team that United will probably have to catch to qualify for Champions League football. What might have seemed impossible just a few weeks ago – their finishing outside of the top four – now seems, if not likely, then very possible indeed. Away games against both Liverpool and Manchester City make Spurs’ run-in as hard as United’s, and whilst the rest of their fixtures look easy on paper, their current run of poor form might see slip-ups against the likes of West Ham (at home), Bournemouth (away) or Everton (at home).
Everton again. The fact is that while Liverpool battle it out for the Premier League top spot, across Stanley Park, their neighbours will play a big role in the other two Champions League spots. It’s a tough place to go; United have won one in three games at Goodison over the years and Arsenal have a similar record. It’s a particularly unhappy hunting ground for Chelsea, though, who have managed fewer than one in four victories there. Another reason to suspect that it will be Sideshow Bob who ends the season in sixth place.
Twenty points from their last eight games could well be enough to bring Champions League football back to Old Trafford next season. Dropping only four is a tough ask, but even after defeat at the Emirates, Solskjaer’s United should have the momentum and confidence to do it.
Of course, while finishing in the top four is no longer in United’s own hands, qualifying for Champions League football next season still is, because there is always the possibility that United could qualify by winning this season’s tournament. A kind quarter final draw in Switzerland on Friday – preferably against Ajax, Porto or Spurs but at the very least, avoiding Barcelona and Bayern – means we could yet see Smalling lift the only trophy in the world that’s bigger than his hair.
So, will Manchester United be in the Champions League next season? The odds look around 50:50, but with Olé at the wheel, you’d be a fool not to put your money on United.
Red Billy’s 2018/19 Premier League Prediction
- Ginger Minge
- Fleas in my Bush
- Wall of Pubes
- Dead Tarantula
- Furry Cycle Helmet
- Sideshow Bob