Manchester United beating Derby County in the FA Cup at the iPro stadium was greeted by fans as a return of decent football.

The fact that Derby County occupy fifth place in the Championship and have lost their previous five games is, to a large extent, irrelevant. As is often said, you can only beat what is put in front of you.

The Cup competitions have a levelling effect. Derby, for one game, could give everything. They didn’t have to worry about dropping points, or whether or not a draw would be a good result, they could just concentrate on trying to win a one-off game of football, (unless there was a replay, of course). The fact that the game was against Manchester United just put the icing on the cake. So really, they were in a no-lose situation. A win would have put the cherry on top of the icing on the cake!

In truth they didn’t play particularly well, a fact emphasised by the scoreline, which was a reasonably fair reflection of the game.

Inevitably, the question will now arise, can Manchester United win the FA Cup?
The short answer is, yes, anybody CAN win the FA Cup. Maybe the question should be WILL they win it? That is the more difficult to answer.

It depends on a few factors such as who they are drawn to play, whether they get drawn at home or away, if games are moved for TV coverage and how that would affect the fans. An away game at say, Bournemouth, if moved to a Friday or Monday night will not attract as many travelling supporters as it would if played on a Saturday or a Sunday and, in the FA Cup where the away teams get many more tickets than in the league, this can be a significant amount. It shouldn’t affect how well the team plays but it sometimes does!

As well as the FA Cup, Manchester United ‘s woeful performances in the Champion’s League mean that they have an opportunity to win the Europa League. With United at their current stage of transition this is an eminently more winnable competition for them than the Champion’s League would have been. It also has the advantage of offering entry into next season’s Champion’s League for the winners of the trophy.

The biggest obstacles in this competition could very well be the other Premier League clubs. Liverpool will probably also see this as their best route into next season’s top competition although they won’t have given up on a top four finish just yet, they are just too inconsistent to achieve it.

Tottenham do have a real chance of achieving qualification by their league position which means that the pressure on them to win the Europa League is slightly less than on the other two. Having said that, as with the FA Cup, any one of these could win it given a favourable draw. The draw, of course, could also decide whether or not we see an all English final. That outcome would certainly drum up plenty of interest in a much maligned tournament.

So, with only two trophies left to play for after only half a season then whatever happens, this season as a whole will be deemed a failure. Particularly considering the fourth place finish last time out and then the amount of money spent during the Summer.

Disappointing showings in the Premier League and in both the Champion’s League and Capital One Cups where they were beaten by inferior teams have proven to be the Achilles’ Heel of van Gaal. He has a reasonable record against the bigger teams but, before the win against Derby County, his record against supposedly lesser teams has been awful.

He appears to be very competent at setting up teams to get results at Anfield and Goodison for example, but not at Old Trafford against Norwich and Southampton. This is why he cannot stay at Manchester United. Every season United are expected to beat big teams.

In conclusion, the longer United stay in the FA Cup and the Europa League, the better chance they have of winning one or the other, (or both!). Not just for the obvious reasons but also because, in theory, the further they go the bigger the teams they are likely to face. The bigger the team the more likely it is that van Gaal will get the tactics right.

  1. Tony says:

    Am I right in saying finishing fourth will not get you into the Champions League IF a lower placed Premier League team wins the Europa cup?


    • Apparently UEFA can award a fifth discretionary place to a team if it deems it appropriate to do so. It didn’t happen of course when Spurs missed out the year Chelsea “won” it, so it will be interesting! Thanks for the comment.


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