Can Lingard, Pogba and Defense Help Man U Gain Separation?

Manchester United

After three draws during the holiday period, Man U have started to turn their luck and skill around with back to back 2-0 wins vs. Everton in the League and at Derby in the FA Cup. 25 year-old forward Jesse Lingard has been the star forward lately, collecting goals in both games, while Paul Pogba continues to help in the midfield, notching two helpers to add to his team-leading seven assists. 

Manchester City may be running away with a 15 point lead, but just eight points separate the next four teams as they jockey for Champions League position.

The Premier League is often separated into a race for the title and then a race for the top four, but if you look closer there are extra benefits to finishing 2nd rather than 3rd or 4th. The top three positions guarantee a Champions League group stage berth compared to a playoff for a spot in the group stage. What’s more, there’s also about a 2 million pound difference from one spot to the next.

With 22 game weeks in the books, we’re just four matches past the halfway point of the 2017-18 Premier League campaign and the cold weather in the next few fixtures could separate the men from the boys. Manchester United may have hit a rough spot recently, but they still have the talent and the manager to finish second in the Premier League.

Man U has exclusively scored two second-half goals in three of their last four matches, including at least one after the 80th minute. While this line of scoring is certainly nerve-wracking for their fans, it worked against Everton and Derby. The key is to not allow those early goals so that the team is not behind when they score late.

Due to a variety of reasons, the most important being fixture congestion, Mourinho has rotated his defense a lot lately and seven different defenders have started in the last five games.

Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof seem to be developing the most consistent roles and have been a large part of the last three clean sheets. The decision on the fourth defender, whether it’s Ashley Young, Chris Smalling or Marcos Rojo, could make a major difference in the team’s standing over the next few weeks. Smalling’s is the by far the best defender historically, but Rojo has the hot feet. However, having to decide between Young, Smalling and Rojo is a problem that one of Man U’s contenders, Liverpool, wish it had.

The Red Devils have an easy fixture this week, and must take advantage of a Stoke team that has lost three straight matches in all competitions. The going then gets tougher as they travel to Turf Moor to face an upstart Burnley team that sits seventh in the table. However, Man U could be catching them at the right time as they have not win a match since December 12th.

After a visit to Yeovil in the FA Cup, the going gets even rougher as Man U must travel to Wembley to face Tottenham. While this Tottenham team is not the one that put together two consecutive top-three finishes, they have won four of their last five and cannot be overlooked.

If Man U can survive that trip, the road gets easier with matches vs. Huddersfield and at Newcastle before what might be the toughest week of the season as they travel to Sevilla in the Champions League before hosting Chelsea in the Premier League.

Man U’s road ahead certainly isn’t easy, but they have the most talent and one of the better managers among the Premier League’s 2-5 teams. A challenge for the top spot is almost impossible, but there is no reason they shouldn’t go for and seal up the second spot, attempt to win the Champions League, and add to their purse for a 2019 title charge.

Photo Credit: By Geoffrey Chisnall (arcainus) ( [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Patrick English