Manchester United’s best hope among the top four? This is a slow race of the Champions League

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They would think that after signing Champions League the best scorer of all time, a four-time winner with Real Madrid and a 21-year-old miracle who has already played twice in the knockout stages, Manchester United would be well on their way to reaching the top four so far. If only it were that simple.

This season is expected to be the first serious challenge for the title at Old Trafford. Instead, he led to the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, an inflated and disorganized team, and the appointment of a temporary coach who now has about four months to change results and meet minimum expectations: a Champions League run.

Last week’s defeat against the Wolverhampton Wanderers was the first for Ralph Rangnick, but nonetheless left United in seventh place, six points behind the finish line and representing the last of the four-horse race. There is no reason to be optimistic when looking at the current league standings, much less those from previous seasons.

The transitional score for the top four is 76 points. No team has ever taken so much and failed to qualify for the Champions League, but it is usually a room for maneuver. In the last decade, fourth place has averaged 71 points. Going back 20 years ago, when the Premier League first had four places in the qualifiers, that average drops slightly to 70.

After 19 games, which is half the season worth of games, United are currently well on their way to finishing with 62 points – desperately lacking for performance and these averages and less than the standard a club of size, growth and United spending should. they have no reach problems. 62 points is usually not enough even for fifth but sixth place.

Only two teams have ever finished with less than 62 points and qualified for the Champions League – Liverpool in last season’s Gerard Houllier as manager and Everton’s David Moyes next year. That was in the mid-2000s, the last time a distinct big trio dominated the Premier League, and the similarity between that period and this season may be United’s lifeline.

While Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have long since split from the group and have almost sewn up the other three places in the Champions League, their dominance has contributed to a slow race for fourth and last place. None of the candidates collects points at a rate above this average of 70 points.

Everyone has clear weaknesses, everyone has shortcomings that need to be exploited, but everyone also has an advantage that others do not have, which makes it an imperfect but finely balanced race.

West Ham, for example, they have points on the board – 37, to be exact, after a 2-0 win over Norwich on Wednesday night. On the other hand, they have now played at least one more match than their rivals and have no postponed matches that could be postponed.

If they had a choice, they would take points each time, but after 21 games, their estimated total of 67 points is still a few points below average. That would have been West Ham’s best result in the Premier League so far, but since the introduction of four qualifiers, only four teams have finished with fewer points.

Moyes is one of the few Premier League managers in the last two decades who knows what it takes to get under the velvet rope and knock down the top four, as mentioned, but he may have to hope the bigger pedigree of West Ham’s rivals doesn’t tell. in the second half of the campaign.

Arsenal they played one game less, but are also on track to score 67 points, thanks to a real turnaround in performances that can’t be ignored. Since visiting Liverpool in mid-November, Mikla Artete’s team has finished second in the form, having won five of its eight games and despite losing the other three, will feel unbeaten.

Some of this is due to a favorable schedule, with the defense of Leeds and Norwich being particularly burdensome, but unlike last season, Arsenal have held on against strong opponents.

The 2-0 win over West Ham before Christmas was impressive, a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford could go both ways and a fragile sense of optimism survived the controversial New Year’s defeat by Manchester City. Even after leaving the FA Cup in Nottingham Forest, the 0-0 result at Anfield in the Carabo Cup semi-final was an exciting response.

Questions remain as to whether this is sustainable, whether old, broken habits will return, and whether Arsenal’s true level is still a good but not very good team, let alone a great one. However, it is hard to deny that at least something has improved in the last month.

If Arsenal has form, Tottenham they have a manager and the strongest argument that the second half of their season will be radically different from the first. While the Spurs under Nun Espirit Santa collected just 1.5 points per game, that number has jumped to 2.25 since the appointment of Antonio Conte – a number more commonly associated with title candidates and even title-winning teams. .

The difference is big and Tottenham puts on the road up to 70 points, which is exactly on the fourth average. Since Conte is in excavation until the end of the campaign, that number should only go even higher. Still, there is an argument to suck some air out of this impressive start, given the schedule.

Tottenham played with only one first half during Conte’s eight games, with Liverpool exhausted by Covid. Trips to Brighton and Leicester have been postponed, contributing to the unusual fact that the Spurs have only played eight away league games this season. Sunday’s North London derby, at home, will be a better test of their ability and will be followed by visits to King Power and Stamford Bridge.

United have also recently benefited from a softer course of the match without bringing much benefit to them. This is perhaps one of the more underplayed but still relevant aspects of Rangnick’s intermediate spell: that matches against Crystal Palace, Norwich, Newcastle, Burnley and Wolves have not spurred higher levels of performance, let alone results.

Their advantage over rivals is simple: the quality mentioned at the very top, the best scorer of the Champions League of all time and the four-time winner completes the team that will compete in the elimination parts of this competition next month. United is the only competitor in this race to have competed in the Champions League since the pandemic interrupted the 2019/20 season. They have quality and pedigree.

Rangnick’s job is to harness this, shape and shape it into a collective worthy of the reputation of different individuals. Saturday’s trip to Villa Park and a rearranged visit to Brentford in the middle of the week could be key to their top four opportunities. However, United are currently far from everything that is normally required to qualify for the Champions League. Their biggest hope is perhaps that their competitors aren’t exactly perfect either.

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