Denis Irwin believes Manchester United’s attacking options can give Jose Mourinho’s men the edge as they look to conclude his second season in charge with second place and silverware.
Pep Guardiola’s excellent Manchester City have all but wrapped up the Premier League title, and it’s only the beginning go March. Mourinho has no other choice but to concede the title is beyond United but it’s still important we finish runners-up — the highest position held by United since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
FA Cup and Champions League dreams remain alive, and, although the latter may seem some way off this team’s capabilities, United great Irwin refuses to rule us out.
“I think from here on in now, games do have a habit of tightening up,” Irwin told Press Association Sport.
“So, there’s going to be a lot of close games and hopefully we keep doing defensively what we’ve been doing, and we’ve got enough going forwards now with Alexis coming in and Lukaku banging the goals in.
“Jesse [Lingard] has come in with a lot more this year, so there’s good avenues there.
“We just need to keep going because as I said at this stage of the season it starts to tighten up a bit now we’re coming to the money end of it.
“Obviously we got a huge win against Chelsea on Sunday, but there’s a huge battle I think or the top four.”
It’s important United finish this campaign convincingly and have something to build on next season. Mourinho can’t allow Guardiola run away with the title again and with improvements in key areas that need strengthening, hopefully the squad is equipped enough to form a proper challenge.
Liverpool are also likely to improve but Emre Can wanting out could make life difficult for Jurgen Klopp, whereas neither Arsenal or Chelsea worry me too much — especially if Real Madrid get their way and take Eden Hazard away from Stamford Bridge.
“In the Champions League, I think any one of 10 teams can win it and I’d include us in that because I think the manager knows how to win,” Irwin continued. “You saw that in the Europa League last season.
“His history will tell you he knows how to win in Europe as well, so that will count for us.
“So, we’re in a very good position with an awful lot to play for in the last two-and-a-half months of the season.”
We all know anything can happen after the quarter-final stage of the Champions League and with a bit of luck in the draw, United can with it.
The first-leg against Sevilla was atrocious — Atletico Madrid showed how it’s done shortly after — so United need to build on that diabolical away performance if we’re to progress. If we could prepare for games like we did against Chelsea, I don’t see why United can’t challenge with the very best; like Mourinho did with his FC Porto side in 2004, albeit with the help of a shocking decision at Old Trafford.
Some might say United scrapped 1-0’s against the likes of Rostov last season in the Europa League when arguing the Champions League is a total different animal, and while they’re right you can only beat what’s put in front of you. Mourinho knows that better than most.
I wouldn’t bank on United doing it but stranger things have happened.
On This Day in 1991, Ryan Giggs made his debut
Ryan Giggs was a wiry 17-year-old when he made his Manchester United first-team debut 27-years-ago. The Wales born winger replaced Irwin as a substitute in a 2-0 league defeat to Everton at Old Trafford.
Neville Southall, Giggs’ one-time Wales teammate, was Everton’s goalkeeper that afternoon and recalls, as per BBC: “I’d heard the hype beforehand and when he came on I thought what a scrawny, thin kid with dodgy hair!
“But he had incredible blistering pace, dribbling ability, superb balance and great vision for a teenager – and you could immediately see the comparisons with George Best.
“Over the years you’ve seen hyped-up kids come on the scene and disappear into the abyss but Giggs has surpassed anyone’s wildest expectations.”
Nothing mate but I cannot remember yesterday
— Neville Southall (@NevilleSouthall) March 2, 2018
Giggs went on to be the only constant fixture in Ferguson’s Premier League dominance and made another 962 appearances for the club, winning 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, Three League Cups and two Champions Leagues.