Sixth is about right

By Mark Payne

It’s the hope that kills you. For a brief moment there everything seemed salavagable. I managed to convince myself that all the things which had gone before were a kind of penance before the Van Gaal juggernaut steamrolled its way to glory. Then our miserable collapse at the Hawthorns was unleashed.

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Manchester United rolled over and invited Tony’s Pulis’s West Bromich Albion to tickle their belly. “Stupid” was how Louis described Juan Mata’s red card. In actual fact, it was stupid of me to believe that our good run could continue.

United have enjoyed only one five-game victory streak since he came in and that was last season. For a team wishing to win the league, winning four on the bounce should be a standard occurrence. For United it was a whiff of past glory and nothing more. Losing one nil to mid-ranking opposition is much more like it for United 2016.

Sixth position in the Premier League is about par for Van Gaal’s United. This is a side that flatters to deceive and manages to be less than the sum of its parts. In some ways, they remind me of the inconsistent show offs of the 1980s United. That side at least had some panache and grit though. This year’s batch can be painfully limp at times.

The coming month is crucial, as I suppose it is for all clubs. The stakes for United are different to what the fan base is used to. In days of yore, it would be to finish as champions or second place. This year, our best hope is fourth and a trophy. We could more easily finish sixth, or lower, and with nothing.

League matches against West Ham United and Manchester City are incredibly important. Van Gaal has masterminded some excellent results against the bigger clubs but the pressure is on now and no excuses can be made for the injuries. It is win or bust.

The Europa League ties against Liverpool feel enormously important. These are two matches I approach with huge trepidation. It seems monumentally stupid for one of the games to be played on St. Patrick’s day. You couldn’t make it up.

With both clubs enjoying middling seasons, the rivalry scalp will be more important than ever. I hope I am wrong, but I expect trouble around these matches. Louis van Gaal’s tenure has hung from result to result for months now. These two matches could be fatal or phenomenal.

With the games against Arsenal and Midtjylland it felt as though, finally, LVG had fit into the Manchester United groove and the good times were beginning to roll. The latest defeat was another reminder of the almost constant discontent.

As a supporter I oscillate from LVGIN to LVGOUT on a weekly basis. It is a bit tiring to be honest. Jose Mourinho still doesn’t feel like the best option and the suspicion lingers that his tenure would be a slow and painful train crash.

Whatever happens against Liverpool on Thursday, this season has not been good enough at any level so far. Victory against the old enemy would be a kind of salvation, but nothing more. Saying United are the sixth best team in the country feels generous today.

They have fallen a long way.

Mark is the author of Fergie’s Last Stand, just £4 this March

Follow him on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

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