— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 6, 2020
“We’re the famous Man United and we’re going to Wembley” sang the travelling fans at Pride Park last Thursday, as Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s vastly second-string side progressed to the FA Cup quarter-finals. It wasn’t a happy reunion for former Red Devils striker Wayne Rooney, as against his former club, the side he now captains, Derby County succumbed to a 3-0 defeat.
It’s Norwich City at Carrow Road in the next round for United, and surely an easy route to the semi-finals. The fans are right, the famous arch of Wembley is in sight and there are just two games standing between them and a place in the final.
While the football bets on a top-four finish are in United’s favour, they’re currently three points behind Chelsea and have a two-point cushion over Wolverhampton Wanderers in sixth. While United could be handed a lifeline into the Champions League by finishing fifth, if their bitter rival’s appeal falls through, as the place into Europe’s top-tier competition opens up for a team further down the table, a season without silverware would go down as somewhat of a failure.
Managers in the top-flight are constantly judged on trophies and no place is this more prevalent than Old Trafford. It’s been a long three seasons since United did the EFL Cup and Europa League double, and four years since they secured the FA Cup. Ahead of their clash against Derby County, the Norwegian said: “Trophies are what we play for” and while he has since assembled a squad and the revolution runs on, there’s undoubtedly pressure on Solskjær to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.
Despite a reasonable transfer window, there was no way United would ever be able to compete with Liverpool’s record-breaking season and with the gap between first and second ever-growing and the trailing pack failing to make up ground, it was always going to be a big ask for United to challenge. This is why a domestic trophy is of such great importance.
With just five wins in the Premier League all season, relegation for Norwich in the first campaign back in the top-flight is almost a given. It’s likely they’ll be over-awed in their upcoming FA Cup clash, despite the shoot-out heroics over Tottenham Hotspur. It’s away ties for all of the ‘big four’ in the final eight, with Arsenal travelling to Sheffield United, Manchester City making the trip to Newcastle United and Chelsea at Leicester City.
The recent 2-0 win over their neighbours in blue saw United complete the Premier League double over the Citizens this season and such a result will do wonders for morale. Let’s not forget, they have a favourable draw in the Europa League last-16, too – against Austrian outfit LASK. While there’s also no doubt that qualifying for next season’s Champions League will be on their mind and allow Solskjær to attract a better class of players to Old Trafford, will they really be in a position to mount a challenge for the domestic title?
But maybe, just maybe, the dark clouds are finally fading away – they’ve come a long way since that 2-0 home defeat to Burnley in mid-January. With a shift in mood around the camp and performances on the pitch of a much better standard, the standard that is expected at such a club – maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel for Solskjær’s side after all.