The inquests are open, the knives are out for Louis van Gaal and the hard truth is that Manchester United were not good enough to qualify from a mediocre-looking Champions League group. Optimism is sure to be in scant supply.
This is understandable. A club of United’s stature should be present in the latter stages of Europe’s premier club competition, but even in moments of such despair, it is important to hold on to some perspective.
Having shimmied into the Europa League knockout stages instead, the Red Devils are already considered 8/1 second favourites to lift the trophy, even though many minds are incapable of looking that far ahead right now.
Here are five reasons (not guaranteed) to shift some of the darkest clouds currently hanging over Old Trafford:
LVG’s side showed much more attacking threat against Wolfsburg
Having been booed off the pitch after their last Premier League game produced a 0-0 at home to West Ham – the fifth time United had failed to score in nine matches – there was a marked improvement in attacking endeavour over in Germany. The Red Devils were more adventurous and incisive from the first whistle at the Volkswagen Arena, firing in six more shots than their hosts overall and matching them for shots on target, scoring twice.
The young players were outstanding
It was a brave decision to start untested 22-year-old right-back Guillermo Varela in such a crucial game and even braver of Van Gaal to replace the injured Matteo Darmian with 18-year-old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson in the first half. However, Varela in particular was excellent in the circumstances, while Borthwick-Jackson hardly put a foot wrong in the cauldron-like atmosphere either, suggesting the future is bright.
Martial is back on the scoresheet
On the subject of future, with a great dollop of the present mixed in, it would have come as a huge relief to United fans to see their teenage striker return to scoring ways with a deft finish. The French whizz ended an eight-game interlude without finding the net, breeding fresh hope he can go on another spree like the four in four matches he treated his new employers to immediately after joining.
They are still in a very healthy position in the Premier League
In his ‘fact’ rant that may well have irked many a Man United enthusiast post-match, Van Gaal was at least correct in citing their lofty league position. Although fourth at present, the red half of Manchester find themselves just three points shy of Leicester’s pace and only kept off third by goal difference from the blue half.
There is the prospect of a potential Europa League showdown with Liverpool
Softening their landing into the much maligned Europa League (alongside the very real possibility of winning it) is the cushioning prospect of a continental clash with Liverpool down the line. If the two giants of English football were to cross swords in the latter stages, what could be sweeter than dumping the old enemy out?
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