Premier League progress has always been judged in seasons. If a side moves up a place from the previous campaign then they’ve done well, if they move down then all’s asunder. But over the last few years teams have been able to use the tail end of a season to boost their form and confidence, which has energised them going into their summer preparations and then provided an immeasurable boost as the new season begins.
This wasn’t as prevalent during the Sir Alex Ferguson era as he was able to use a new signing (Eric Cantona, Dwight Yorke, Michael Carrick, Robin Van Persie) or a post-Christmas run to propel Manchester United to domestic glory. But as the Premier League has become more tightly contested – no team has been able to defend the title in nine seasons – holders have instantly found themselves being overtaken by their zealous competitors, who use this impetus to go on to great success.
Just look at Leicester City, whose miraculous Premier League title win came off the back of them winning 8 out of their last 10 games in the 2014/2015 season, which allowed them to stay up. Chelsea trounced Tottenham 4-0 and Arsenal 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and claimed an earth-shattering 2-0 win at Liverpool to wreck the Reds’ title dreams in the last few weeks of the 2013/2014 season, before then leading pretty much every week of the 2014/2015 campaign. Even the Luis Suarez-inspired Liverpool team, who we can all admit should have been champions in the 2013/2014 season, were pushed on to such great heights after remaining unbeaten for the last 8 games of the 2012/2013 season.
It’s easy to become disheartened, write off United’s top four pursuits and just focus on the Europa League. After all, it was their second home draw in three days, their ninth at Old Trafford this season, and 12th overall (just two shy of their 14 wins). Even Mourinho has teased that he might just focus on the Europa League from now on.
But the bare ingredients are there for Manchester United to create a chugging momentum for their future. Diabolical home record and draw addiction aside, Manchester United are favourites for the Europa League, which would immediately cement over the crack of missing out on the top 4. They are still on a 20-game unbeaten run in the Premier League that stretches all the way back to October, while they also have a home game against Chelsea and tricky away games at Manchester City, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur to impose and prove themselves against, too.
Sure, their return against the top six this season has been measly, as they’ve only beaten Tottenham, drawn twice with Liverpool, once with Arsenal, and lost to both Chelsea and Manchester City. But Mourinho has always been a manager for the big occasion and with the Theatre Of Dreams waiting to be dazzled and still truly convinced by his dynamism, now is the prime time for him to prove just how special he can be.