Although Manchester United sit fourth in the Premier League with 12 games remaining of the current season, preparation for another season without Champions League football is a possibility which Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward will surely have contemplated.
Whilst that may have been a thought both will have wanted to avoid, failure to secure a place in the top four this season would be a huge disappointment to the club’s fans, some of which would inevitably call for van Gaal to be sacked.
Granted, should United fail to qualify for the Champions League this season, van Gaal’s debut season would rightly be labelled as a failure. The Dutch manager is almost seven months into his rebuilding project though there have been few signs of his famed philosophy developing, after he originally declared it would take three months for players to adapt to his methods.
A lack of visible progress on the pitch and significant backing in his first transfer window, something with which David Moyes was not provided, is confirmation that van Gaal’s side is not living up to expectations, in terms of performances, this season.
Despite that, United are still in a good enough position to achieve their ambition of elite European football next season, though their list of remaining fixtures suggests performances will have to improve to supplement the recent trend of perceived fortune in recent wins.
Indeed, results in remaining games against sides such as Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool might be looked back on as vital deciders for the elusive fourth Champions League spot. Games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, the three other sides many expect to occupy the other Champions League places come the end of the season, will provide equally difficult tests in the final weeks of the season.
With such a difficult set of remaining fixtures, it is conceivable that United could take zero points from those games, a scenario which leave United’s Champions League ambitions in a mess.
However, although a run of such form would be incredibly disappointing, United fans should remember the situation the club found themselves in towards the end of last season.
Last season, fans had largely resigned to the fact that they would not be in the Champions League the following season. In fact, it is almost a year to the day that David Moyes’ side lost 2-0 to Olympiakos.
Moyes was not greatly liked by the United support but there was a perception amongst fans that he deserved another transfer window to rebuild and that their renewed patience should continue into the next season.
In a comparatively better situation this season, van Gaal’s United are at least in contention for Champions League football next term.
Should a horrific run of results follow against the better sides in the division, United fans should at least allow van Gaal the same as what many were willing to reluctantly allow Moyes- a third transfer window.
And in terms of comparison between the Dutchman and Moyes, an especially popular topic in the media in recent weeks, van Gaal has made a significantly better impact in the transfer window than his predecessor.
Van Gaal’s transfer dealings have been ruthless and, whilst he received the backing in his first transfer window which Moyes must have craved, the Dutchman’s brutal assessment of his players is something to be encouraged about.
Van Gaal has brought in and disposed of senior players, stamping an authority on the squad. He notably deemed players such as Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Nani surplus to requirements, whilst bringing in high calibre replacements such as Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao. Moyes ultimately failed to assert himself in such a manner.
Transition will pass under van Gaal if given time. If United have a summer transfer window as productive as that of last year, in terms of both incomings and outgoings, van Gaal should have a squad better fitting of his philosophy to compete next season.
Whether the same could have been said for Moyes, or ‘dithering Dave’ as he is affectionately known by Everton fans who regularly rued his prolonged assessment of a player, remains debatable.
Many expected Moyes to be given until around Christmas of this season until he could have been judged as having enough time to implement his ideas on the team. It wasn’t to be. However, a manager of greater stature and with a proven record of success in van Gaal should at least be allowed the same amount of time as Moyes to mould the team in his image.
United are preparing for the possibility of not qualifying for the Champions League this season, not the near certainty of last season. Whilst a bad run of results is possible, an improvement from a van Gaal side at such a pivotal time of the season is equally likely. The Dutchman is, after all, more accustomed than most to dealing with such a high pressure scenario.
Worry may surround United’s fans at present but there is still time remaining for the team to improve and secure Champions League football for next season.