On 1st December, Manchester United were third in the Premier League title race, separated from the top by just a point, having won the second most number of games and boasting the division’s meanest defence. Fast forward a month, and the club are stuck in a mire.
No wins from their December fixtures saw the Red Devils slump to sixth in the table and also suffer the ignominy of becoming the only English club to not qualify from their Champions League group. A month which yielded just two points marked the worst-ever month in the club’s 137-year history.
Amid calls to boot manager Louis van Gaal out of the club to endorse the Premier League’s newest traditions of kneejerkism, the Dutchman has found some semblance of gumption to suggest United can still win the title come May.
“We need to win because we want to be at the end at the top of the league and not in the middle,” Van Gaal said.
Van Gaal is right indeed; titles aren’t won on New Years day and the league doesn’t end at the halfway point. The Old Trafford outfit are only nine points off league leaders Arsenal and with 57 more points to play, United are still in the title race, although that fact has taken trivial proportions in recent weeks.
A run of eight games without a win has seen United fall from their lofty pre-December position in the table, and Van Gaal has accepted work needs to be done to make the upward push. “We have to get points, otherwise the gap is too big and that is why we have to do what we have to do. Work, do the things, prepare the game, perform and then evaluate the game again. That is much more difficult when you don’t win. All the things you say as a manager is more accepted [when you win],” he added.
Man Utd next face Swansea, against whom Van Gaal has never won, and there is a distinct air of pressure around him as well as the players. A win against the Swans on Saturday could propel them above Crystal Palace, who kick off against Chelsea a day later.
“Pressure is what you experience yourself and by the players. Most important are the players because they have to perform. They have to give everything and that is the most difficult aspect. That is the players’ function. You have to show it for 90 minutes against the resistance of the opponent and also under the pressure of the environment and the pressure you put yourself under. You have to cope with that,” said Van Gaal.
Man Utd had a terrible end to 2015, but the audacity of Van Gaal to suggest they still can win the title could just be the catalyst to turn their season around in what is a blank canvas of 2016.