This season has been a strange one for Manchester United fans. It has been filled with some crushing defeats and bruising disappointments. Fan morale is
so low, they’ve struck oil and bought a club in London. There have been reports of players losing faith in the manager, Louis van Gaal showing Allardycean-levels of arrogance in press conferences, and a protracted managerial saga of who will be in charge of the club next season. Despite all of that, Manchester United find themselves still in the hunt for fourth place. The play may have been dire and the goals may not come often enough, but they are still there. Looking at this season through that context, what should be considered a successful season for van Gaal and the Manchester United squad?
With only four games left in the Premier League, Manchester United find themselves only five points behind third place Manchester City, with a game in hand. When you add into the fact that Manchester City will be focusing on the Champions League and Arsenal have been in indifferent form as of late, it would not be unheard of for Manchester United to recover those five points. At the beginning of the season, after the money that had been dropped and the expectations that were put forth, a top four finish was what you would have gauged to be the minimum requirement.
Now, after the injuries they have suffered and the form of the rest of the league, being there, or thereabouts, would be considered a passing grade. If Manchester United can finish the season strong, there is a strong chance they can get top four. At this stage, even if they don’t make the top four, they have been close enough to earn a passing, if disapointing, grade for this campaign. Not exactly successful, but close. For the season to be considered an undeniable success, however, Champions League will be required.
Should they fail to reach the top four, Manchester United’s only route toward a successful season is the FA Cup. At this stage, they are in the final against a team that is currently 16th in the league and, until recently, lowered themselves closer and closer into the scrap for relegation. It is impossible to look past Manchester United for this game. Not only is winning paramount to considering the season a success, it’s a must for this club.
Should Manchester United come so far this season, after all of the disappointment and poor form, only to lose the FA Cup final, it will color the rest of the season looking back. Instead of the narrative being “Yes, Manchester United were poor, but they won a cup” it will be “Manchester United’s poor season was punctuated by losing the FA Cup final to a team that was threatened with relegation two months before.” The only thing that could wipe the slate clean for van Gaal would be making Champions League through the league.
So what do Manchester United look to do the rest of the season? First, they can’t afford to mentally go on vacation early. There is still a lot to play for this season for them. If van Gaal can keep them motivated, there is no reason they couldn’t get top four and win the FA Cup. Hit one of those targets, and the season can be seen as a success. Miss both, and it will be just another season of spinning their wheels instead of improving and rebuilding in the post-Ferguson era.