Last week was a pretty good one for Manchester United. A brace from the brilliant Marcus Rashford fired the Red Devils to victory against Tottenham Hotspur midweek – also getting one over former boss José Mourinho. On Saturday, they won bragging rights over neighbours Manchester City to climb the table further. While the red side of Manchester have recently found some form, they sit fifth, level on points with Wolverhampton Wanderers, and five points behind Chelsea in fourth.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side are guaranteed a place in the Europa League round of 32, having qualified from Group L with a game to spare. While online football betting odds currently price both United and Arsenal as joint-favourites for the Europa League crown this season, you can’t look beyond five-time winners Sevilla who boast a 100% record in the group stages. There are also a number of other teams who have already qualified and are unbeaten after five matches. Of course, the Champions League drop-outs will join the round of 32 and there are a number of tight groups and top teams who will transfer to the Europa League.
The third round of the FA Cup is set to get underway in the New Year, with the Red Devils pitted against Wolves, another of the sides to have done well this season despite juggling multiple competitions. Known as the round when the ‘big boys’ join, United would have hoped for an easier tie, with teams as low as the fifth tier of English football still competing for their place in the further rounds.
A trip to Molineux is hardly the end of the world, but United haven’t beaten the Midlands club since 2012. To be dumped out the cup at the earliest stage would be disastrous in terms of their fight for silverware.
It has to be said that United’s League Cup campaign didn’t start too brightly. Joining the competition in the third round, Solskjær’s boys hosted neighbours Rochdale of League One. After going ahead midway through the second half, the Premier League club were pegged back less than 10 minutes later and the game went to penalties. Luckily, United overcame a massive scare to go through on penalties, only to be drawn against Chelsea in the round of 16. Rashford was hero once again in the League Cup, netting a brace at Stamford Bridge in the last round.
Of course, their quarter-final opponents should not be taken for granted. Colchester United of League Two have already dispatched two top-flight clubs by way of penalties. Crystal Palace were the first to fall in round two, before Spurs were knocked out in round three. But home advantage and current form should favour the Red Devils.
The other quarter-final ties are interesting with two all-Premier League clashes as Aston Villa host Liverpool and Leicester City travel to Everton, while current holders Manchester City face Oxford United. If United can overcome their lesser-ranked opponents there’s no reason why they can’t go all the way – especially as this season they’ve performed better against the top teams. They are the only side to win a point against Liverpool and while the League Cup has gained a reputation as being a ‘Mickey Mouse’ tournament, at the end of the day, one trophy is better than none.