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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Manchester United fans have reasons to feel upbeat about next season ahead of West Brom clash

Unlike this weekend's opponents, who face near-certain relegation, Mourinho's men have plenty of positives to draw from at the end of 2017/18

Manchester United, particularly Paul Pogba, have the potential to do better next season. Lee Smith / Reuters
Manchester United, particularly Paul Pogba, have the potential to do better next season. Lee Smith / Reuters

It is probably time for Manchester United fans feeling sorry for themselves during the past month since their team’s Uefa Champions League elimination to Sevilla to put things into perspective.

Matters could be much worse – they could support Sunday’s opponents at Old Trafford, West Bromwich Albion for one. The bottom of the league Baggies are 10 points from safety with only five league games remaining.

Given that they have won only three of their 33 league matches this season, it is clear that they are going down. It would take a change in fortunes akin to Manchester City not winning the league for West Brom to stay up.

Two of the Baggies’ wins came in their opening two games of the season and they have won just one since, a January home match against Brighton & Hove Albion.

Their already ageing squad which fans see as the result of under investment has been hit by injuries and two changes of manager, with the unpopular Tony Pulis and even more unpopular Alan Pardew dismissed. Senior executives also lost their jobs as their seven-year spell in the Premier League is set to come to an end.

Following the relegations of Aston Villa and Birmingham City, they were the only remaining team from England’s West Midlands, though nearby Wolverhampton Wanderers are on target for promotion next season.

West Brom were woefully short of goals, a problem they tried to resolve by signing Daniel Sturridge on loan from Liverpool in January. The striker has played only 77 minutes of football since, following an injury from which he has only just recovered.

United, who have a full squad and no injuries apart from second-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero, have fared far better in the past month since those horrific displays against the Spaniards.

They are on a run of nine wins from their 11 Premier League games in 2018, the best record of any team in the league. United have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and last week they came from 2-0 at Manchester City to win 3-2, the most memorable moment of the season so far for United fans.

That victory gave the players a huge lift and confidence that they can compete with City next season rather than be left behind, as they have been since October in what turned out to be a one horse race for the Premier League title.

Unlike last season when the Europa League maintained United’s interest in Europe, the club could only look on in envy in April as the big Champions League matches are played. United have only gone beyond the last 16 once in the past seven years. Barcelona and Real Madrid, the other two giants, have been there in each of the past seven years.

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Richard Jolly: Daunting Premier League survival test awaits West Bromwich Albion

Podcast: Tony Pulis pays for West Brom slump; Arsenal need to back up derby win

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West Bromwich Albion will most likely be relegated at the end of the season. Andrew Boyers / Reuters
West Bromwich Albion will most likely be relegated at the end of the season. Andrew Boyers / Reuters

United do have the FA Cup though, a competition taken very seriously by Jose Mourinho and by United fans.

Tottenham Hotspur away in next Saturday’s semi-final is a tough ask given United’s woeful away form against Spurs, but the team are again in form and the second-half performances of Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez in the derby gave much encouragement. Despite the winning league run, the hugely talented pair had been among the most disappointing United players this year.

United are on target to finish with more than 80 points for the first time since winning the title in 2013. A probable second-place finish would be the highest since their last title year, too. Despite saying otherwise publicly, Mourinho did not think his team were ready to be champions this season, but he does think it is fair to judge him after three seasons.

As United aim to finish this season strongly and mount a serious title challenge next term, he is in an excellent position to make good within that time scale.

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