Manchester United have registered three defeats on the bounce, after producing possibly their best football under Louis van Gaal in the wins against Tottenham, Liverpool & Manchester City.
Astoundingly, despite keeping an average possession of 68% and having hit a combined 58 shots in the last three outings - Chelsea, Everton & West Brom; Manchester United have failed to score a goal. As a result, the gap between Man Utd and Liverpool has been closed down to four points. With three games left in the season, there is every possibility that Liverpool may eventually spoil their bitter rivals party.
Race for European places
Despite their unconvincing start to the season Manchester United were third in the table with 36 points in 19 games at the turn of the year.
They had possibly the easiest run-ins from Gameweek 20 to 28 for the teams challenging for the top four with six of these games against teams in the lower half of the table. The Manchester United of old would have steamrolled their opponents and built on a favourable lead over the rest of the pack for the business end of the season.
However, Louis van Gaal's men could only muster 17 points out of 24 points available. During this period, Liverpool & Arsenal collected 23 and 21 points respectively. While Arsenal overtook Man Utd for third place, Liverpool were breathing down their neck with just two points separating them apart.
The last ten games of the season usually test the resolve of most teams and the Red Devils were handed a very tough fixture list with matches against - Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton & Arsenal. Given the fact, that the teams from fourth to seventh in the table were separated by only seven points, many pundits had written off Man Utd's chances of finishing in the Champions League places considering their mediocre performances and incredibly difficult fixtures.
Manchester United responded magnificently to grab four successive victories before the debacle against league leaders Chelsea. Despite being in the ascendency for majority of the match, the Red Devils lacked the ruthlessness and ability to breach Chelsea's defence. Van Gaal described Utd's performance as best of the season possibly to quell any demotivation in the camp.
The games against Everton and West Brom again highlighted Man Utd's inability to penetrate against teams ready to drop deep and hold fort. United have missed their midfield orchestrator Michael Carrick in the three defeats.
Interestingly, the statistics back the theory that Carrick is indeed one of the most important players for LVG's system to succeed. In the 15 games, Carrick has started Manchester Utd have accumulated 36 points. On the other hand, United's tally in other games stands at a dismal 29 points.
While over-reliance on Carrick is certainly an issue that needs addressing in the next transfer window, Manchester United need to ensure that he is fit and available for the remaining fixtures. Although, the composition of the table has been more or less decided, the fight for the fourth place and the mad scramble to avoid relegation would surely provide some entertainment to the fans.
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