Manchester United face the most important week of their season as they look to stay alive in the two competitions they could yet win.
Here we take a look at the three games they will play in the next six days – starting with tonight’s FA Cup fifth-round tie in Shrewsbury – as boss Louis van Gaal and his injury-hit squad aim to avoid yet more scorn.
Monday: FA Cup, Shrewsbury (away)
Anything other than a win is unthinkable. Defeat would take van Gaal even closer to the brink – if that’s possible? – while a draw to take the tie back to Old Trafford would be seen as further evidence of their decline. Van Gaal would hardly welcome the prospect of another game for his injury-depleted squad either.
The fact anyone is even speaking in these terms – Shrewsbury are in the League One relegations zone – is down to the fact United have lost the almighty aura which once had teams beaten even before the Red Devils arrived in town. Van Gaal admitted as much after last week’s Europa League defeat in Denmark and while a win in Shropshire isn’t going to re-confirm it, they have to start somewhere.
Thursday: Europa League, FC Midtjylland (home)
United’s best hope of securing a place in next season’s Champions League appears to be via the Europa League. The only problem with that is they might go out of the tournament this week. A shock 2-1 defeat to FC Midtjylland in the first leg of their round-of-32 clash has left them with an edgy home tie to negotiate on Thursday. They will be favourites to do it – Midtjylland were beaten 5-0 away to Napoli earlier in the tournament – but no-one will be taking it for granted. An injury list highlighted by the absences of Wayne Rooney and David de Gea ensures that although Michael Carrick has publicly stated his team can’t use injuries as an excuse.
Sunday: Premier League, Arsenal (home)
United are six points adrift in their quest for a Champions League place and the visit of title-chasing Arsenal on Sunday looms as pivotal to their hopes of reeling in the top four. It is a vitally important game and, after a hectic week, the depth of van Gaal’s side will be tested against a Gunners outfit looking to close the gap on the league leaders. Arsenal thumped United 3-0 when they met at the Emirates in early October and with so much to play for this return match will take centre stage of the Premier League’s weekend action. If United can emerge from it with a run of three wins then just maybe next Monday’s papers won’t be full of Jose Mourinho stories.