Manchester United must ensure they finish strongly in May


Manchester United got through the toughest month of the season, playing nine matches in the Premier League and the UEFA Europa League in April. May looks set to be an important month with the final league fixtures and the semi-final in the Europa League, starting with the visit to Celta Vigo on Thursday evening. United sit fifth in the Premier League table, still within a chance of finishing inside the top four this season, but winning the Europa League remains the best chance of earning a UEFA Champions League place next season. Jose Mourinho’s side seems to have struggled at this stage of the season through injury, which was alleviated in training earlier on Wednesday with Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, and Chris Smalling returning to action, possibly against the Spanish side on Thursday evening.

Celta Vigo -v- Manchester United – UEFA Europa League – Thursday 4th May 2017

The first of six, possibly seven matches this month. United travelled out to Spain on Wednesday ready for the match on Thursday night. In the knockout stages of the Europa League this season, United have not always got the result they wanted, especially in the away legs. Saint-Etienne is the exception here, winning 1-0 away from home, which followed a 3-0 home victory. From the round of 16 onwards, United had been drawn away first, drawing 1-1 with FC Rostov and Anderlecht, leaving it all for the home leg, which resulted in a slim 1-0 victory against Rostov at Old Trafford, and a 2-1 victory over Anderlecht, which needed extra time to find the winner after a 1-1 90 minute draw. Against Celta Vigo, United will need to do more away from home, giving them more of a guarantee in the second leg, making it less nervous for the supporters who will be banking in a European final at the end of the season.

Arsenal -v- Manchester United – Premier League – Sunday 8th May 2017

Sitting fifth in the Premier League ahead of this fixture, sandwiched in between two important Europa League matches at the semi-final stage, United will need to maintain squad fitness, even though Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all trained on Wednesday morning. Arsenal sits in sixth place in the league table, five points adrift of United with one game in hand. Losing at the Emirates on Sunday will give Arsenal a chance of pushing United further down the pecking order in the league, effectively making it much tougher for Jose Mourinho’s side to finish inside the top four this season. In a season of Arsenal decline, finishing above them will show that United have improved, with Arsenal likely to decline further.

Manchester United -v- Celta Vigo – UEFA Europa League – Thursday 11th May 2017

This will be the important leg of the semi-final. Hopefully, United will have done the work in Spain, leaving the Old Trafford leg as a mere formality, in an ideal world at least. United will be 90 minutes, or 120 and penalties away from the UEFA Europa League final, another 90 minutes away from a UEFA Champions League place next season. Chances are, a victory over Arsenal ahead of this match could put United in a much better position in the league, ahead of the run in where they play their final rescheduled match before the final match of the season. Beating Celta Vigo will give United that seventh match in May, one which could see them end their season on style. A Europa League final against either Ajax or Lyon would be a tough encounter, but one United would be confident of winning. Getting there is the only thing that United should be thinking of right now, though.

Tottenham Hotspur -v- Manchester United – Premier League – Sunday 14th May 2017

The final match at White Hart Lane before it is demolished to rebuild Spurs’ new stadium will be a big occasion for the home side. Last season, United played in the last ever match at Upton Park, the Boleyn Ground, losing to West Ham United in a turbulent affair which saw the United team bus vandalised on the way to the stadium. I am not saying something similar will happen to the team bus this season, but United’s recent history of playing in a last ever match at a stadium has not been a good one. Spurs currently chase Chelsea in the race to lifting the Premier League title, sitting four points behind the Stamford Bridge club, so this match, no matter how much Spurs will want to win, will have many emotions attached, providing Mauricio Pochettino’s side continue to win their matches, and Chelsea wins theirs. This will be a big match, one United may also need to win, especially if they exit the Europa League.

Southampton -v- Manchester United – Premier League – Wednesday 17th May 2017

A rematch of the EFL Cup final which saw Southampton push United in their bid to win a first major trophy under the management of Jose Mourinho this season. Motivated by the fact United have suffered many injuries and are not the team they used to be, the Saints will be looking to take points off them at this crucial stage of the season. United may well have earned a Europa League final place by this time, which is what will be expected, but a place in the Champions League will not be a guarantee, unless United have somehow led themselves into the top four by this time, with enough space to drop points and remain there. With a possible European final coming in a week’s time, Mourinho will need to ready his squad for that, meaning he will need to have enough strength to earn what will be needed from this match, keeping an eye on the final Premier League match of the season and a possible European final.

Manchester United -v- Crystal Palace – Premier League – Sunday 21st May 2017

The final match of the Premier League season. If United are in the Europa League final and Palace do not need the points to stay up, Jose Mourinho has suggested he could play a much-weakened team in order to give his players a bit of rest for their cup final. It is a good job United were not in the FA Cup too, or it could well be a busy week of football. Palace are expected to be in a safe position at this stage of the season, currently sitting in 16th place, four points to the good over Hull City, who are safe right now. The fact Sunderland have already been relegation strengthens their position and we could see all three relegated clubs being confirmed by the time this match is played. The champions could also be determined with the matches being a formality. There could be a race for top four, hopefully with United safe inside, or too far out of it at this stage, meaning everything will be lumped on the Europa League final, providing Mourinho’s men make it there.

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