The post-Ferguson transition period has lasted longer than Manchester United fans would have hoped, but there are signs that the club is returning to its position among the elite in England and in Europe. Under José Mourinho, United have re-established themselves in the top four of the Premier League, and last season they picked up two trophies – most notably the Europa League, which ensured their return to the Champions League for the current campaign.
However, if that upward trajectory is to continue, United need to win silverware again this season. Given the expectation at the club and the considerable investment that Mourinho has been allowed to make in new players, nothing less than a major trophy will be considered acceptable by fans and owners alike. A surprise defeat to Bristol City in the fifth round of the EFL Cup means that they won’t be defending their League Cup title, and has reduced their silverware options. What are United’s chances of winning a trophy this season?
There is no doubt that this is the big one. Winning the Champions League would be the clearest statement possible that United are once again a force to be reckoned with. Given that they have not yet re-established the Ferguson-era dominance in the Premier League, it would represent a remarkable achievement, but in Mourinho they have a manager who has four European trophies to his name and knows exactly how to guide a team to European glory.
So far, United have steered a steady course to the last 16, and after earning a solid draw in Sevilla, they appear to have a great chance of progressing to the quarter-finals. Their progress has been under the radar to an extent, and they are not rated among the favourites to lift the Champions League trophy by Stakers.com, but that won’t concern Mourinho. What will worry him is whether his team is ready to take on the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich or even rivals Manchester City. Although the team is progressing, it is possible that this might be a season too soon for them to go all the way in the Champions League.
If United are to re-establish their dominance, the key is the Premier League. After all, Sir Alex built his Champions League-winning sides on a foundation of Premier League superiority, and there is no substitute for domestic league success for United fans. Domestic dominance also ensures regular football in Europe and builds the kind of supreme confidence and winning mentality that characterised the teams of the Ferguson era.
Unfortunately, while a top four place appears to be assured this season, it seems unlikely that United will be able to overhaul Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title. Mourinho’s men trail the leaders by 16 points with only 11 games to go. It would take a collapse of epic proportions for City to blow their title chance at this stage, but while it seems extremely unlikely, United do at least have the chance to make a statement when they travel to the Etihad Stadium for the final Premier League Manchester derby of the season.
A miracle Premier League win would be glorious for United fans, but given that the team have a tough run-in that includes games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as that match against City, a serious challenge for the league title will have to wait until next season.
While winning the FA Cup will not make the same statement as pulling off a Premier League or Champions League triumph, it remains United’s most winnable trophy this season, and it would also bring the club level with Arsenal at the top of the list of all-time FA Cup trophies.
So far, United have come through the tournament with little difficulty, disposing of Derby County, Yeovil Town and Huddersfield Town en route to the quarter-finals. They have also been handed a good draw, at home to Brighton & Hove Albion. To lift the trophy at Wembley in May, they will presumably have to beat either Chelsea or Tottenham at some point – and possibly both – but in Mourinho they have a manager who is adept at steering a team through cup competitions, and the FA Cup represents a great opportunity for the club to pick up another piece of silverware as they rebuild their reputation and continue to establish a new dynasty of dominance in England and in Europe.