Manchester United are guaranteed to play at least 59 matches at this stage of the season. If they beat FC Rostov in the UEFA Europa League, they will be guaranteed at least two more matches, and if they beat Chelsea in the Emirates FA Cup, reaching the semi-final stage, another match will be playable, which could take United to 62 matches this season, the most since the 2008/09 season – 66 matches – the season after winning the Premier League and UEFA Champions League double, but a season where United played in the UEFA Super Cup, losing to Zenit St. Petersburg, won the FA Community Shield, went all the way to the final of the UEFA Champions League, losing to Barcelona in Rome, winning the FIFA Club World Cup, winning the League Cup, reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup and winning the Premier League title. The 2008/09 season could have been a good one for United if they swept the board, but it was not to be.
Playing more and more matches is going to be tough for any team. Back in the 1998/99 treble winning season, United played 63 matches. United started badly that season, losing to Arsenal in the FA Charity Shield, having to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, went all the way in the Premier League, being knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the League Cup, lifting the FA Cup and winning the famous Champions League trophy in Barcelona with those three special minutes at the end of the match. It was the moment Manchester United reached the promised land, king of kings. This season may not feel anything like that special season but after the barren three years Manchester United supporters have endured, this could still be a special season for its own merits. United have a good squad, one capable of winning, but problems have arisen – which need to be solved in the summer – if the club is to press on.
Treble winner and Manchester United legendary left-back Denis Irwin was quoted by the Manchester Evening News, talking about the risks that the club and Jose Mourinho need to be taking this season. The reds have already played 44 matches this season, including the 1-1 draw to Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Saturday. The prospect could well be 66 matches this season should United make it to Wembley in the Emirates FA Cup final and to Stockholm in Sweden for the UEFA Europa League final – both in May 2017. Irwin spoke about players wanting to play each and every match this season, but like in the 98/99 season, that is just not something that is possible, or a good thing to do based on the fact players need to be fresh and ready for the matches they play.
“You’d love to play every game but I think that’s almost impossible, particularly for the front players who need to be at their sharpest. That’s down to the manager, when he wants to freshen it up. Certainly in 99, Sir Alex freshened it up quite a bit. I remember a semi-final replay against Arsenal where he rested quite a few.
“You have to take a risk somewhere along the line but that’s down to the manager. We’ve got a fine squad and we’ll have to see what happens. When you get momentum it’s a very strong leverage to have. I remember in 1999 we just kept playing and got on a run but I never thought it end up like it did.
“I don’t think that at any point I thought it was manageable because of the amount of games we had. I don’t like the phrase but you take each game as it comes and see how it works out. There’s Rostov and Chelsea away and it’s a daunting schedule, lot of travelling in there. It wasn’t the ideal draw for us (to got to Russia) but you’ve just got to go with it.
“You’ve seen from previous games how strong a team he played in St Etienne even though we were 3-0 up. The manager looks like he’s desperate to win as many trophies as possible. But I think the manager will utilise as many players as possible.
“It always helps that you’ve got two men to every position, great that there hasn’t been that many injuries in the last three or four months – I think that’s a big thing. You’re going to get suspensions, you’re going to pick up injuries, that’s going to happen. You just hope as many of the squad stay as injury-free as possible.”
Manchester United and Jose Mourinho have all the ingredients to be successful in the coming years. The Portuguese manager has already won the FA Community Shield and the EFL Cup this season, despite recent form, there is still a chance of success in the Premier League – perhaps not winning the league, but earning a place in the top four. There are still two cups available for United to win – the Emirates FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League. Winning titles and trophies is what football is about. If United did reach the finals of the FA Cup and the Europa League, winning both cups, a Cup Treble or a Banter Treble would have been completed by the manager and his team in the first season of his reign, which would be classed as successful. The Banter Treble would upset the ABU’s and the achievement would be mocked, but it would be an achievement, especially after the barren three years since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
This would not be the pinnacle of Manchester United’s history, more of a return to winning trophies, aiming to better their form and achieve something again. If United do finish the season with three cups and a place in the Premier League top four, which would mean they would play in the UEFA Champions League next season, as would winning the Europa League, it would inspire United to go back to the drawing board and look into the various ways of winning prestigious trophies in the coming seasons. United were just a sleeping giant over the last three seasons, and the snooze button had been pressed time and time again. The giants are waking up and ready to aim for the skies again. United may take some time to get back to the dizzy heights they achieved in the 1998/99 and the 2007/08 seasons, also reaching the UEFA Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011, but those times will return, which will show the scousers how you overcome the inability to win time and time again.
Written by Mike Wilson