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Man United’s season has been a triumph regardless of what happens next

by Red Billy

Manchester United are struggling to hold on to their top four position in the Premier League.

A few weeks ago, United had a healthy cushion in third place, were in the quarter finals of the Europa League and flying high, having not been knocked out of any competition they had entered.

Now, it seems, the season is in danger of falling apart. Questions are being asked about goalkeeper David de Gea, complaints about the side’s inability to score goals are everywhere and even manager Erik ten Hag, worshipped as a god by some fans until recently, is now coming under scrutiny.

If the Red Devils manage to hold on to that fourth place in the Premier League, all will be forgotten, but if they drop out – especially if replaced by arch rivals Liverpool – the season will be considered by most to be a failure, regardless of whether they lift the FA Cup on June 3rd and regardless of the Carabao Cup already being in the bag.

But this United side and Erik ten Hag must not be defined and judged by what happens between now and the end of the season. The fact that they are in this position is incredible considering what they have had to endure.

1. Most games played of any team in all European Leagues

With 58 games so far, United have played more games than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues. And they have done so …

2. Reduced squad

… making do with a much lighter squad than last season. Much has been made about how much the Glazers invested in the new arrivals – Casemiro, Antony, Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malaca and Christian Eriksen – this season, but there were far more outgoings, in Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Tahith Chong and Andreas Pereira.

3. World Cup

United picked a fine time to progress to at least the quarter finals of every competition they have played in, when that record number of games also had the added weight of the World Cup right in the middle of the season, which involved the vast majority of the United squad.

4. Horrific luck with injuries and suspensions

Donny van de Beek, Christian Eriksen, Alejandro Garnacho, Anthony Martial, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez have all missed big chunks of the season. Both centre backs, lost in the same game for the rest of the season – that is particularly bad luck. Casemiro has missed seven games through suspension. Mason Greenwood remains suspended. Given everything mentioned above, this was also the last thing United needed to happen. These absences from an already light squad has led to some players having played an inordinate number of games. Bruno Fernandes has played easily the most games and the most minutes of any professional footballer in the world this season (source: transfermarkt.com).

5. The CR7 circus

United had to start the season with Ronaldo refusing to come on tour, angling for a move away, sulking on the sidelines and generally being disruptive. Then came the particularly explosive Piers Morgan interview. Then came the void left by him at a time when United were left with …

6. Lack of winter transfer funds

… zero budget to solve the problem of missing strike power. Any other club would have made provisions when Ronaldo departed, but United had to sit by and watch Chelsea scoop up Joao Felix on loan and Liverpool buy Cody Gakpo in January.

7. The distraction of the potential sale of the club

Inability to plan, a rudderless ship, dead men walking in the corridors of power at Old Trafford, all of this has added to Ten Hag’s woes.

All of this has happened in Ten Hag’s first season. It would have been a challenge for any manager, but for a maiden season, to say it was a baptisim of fire would be an understatement.

None of this is to say that United and Ten Hag are immune from criticism. But any criticism must be set against these mitigating circumstances.

All things considered, this season could perhaps be labelled a success regardless of what happens in the last five games.

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