MANCHESTER United are the only English team still in with a mathematical chance of winning four trophies this season — three at home and the other the Europa League, in which they play Barcelona next month.
Their detractors, rightly or wrongly, say that Erik ten Hag’s charges are too far off Arsenal’s pace (11 points) to entertain any thoughts about the league title. The Gunners also have a game in hand over the Red Devils.
On Thursday, Manchester United beat Nottingham Forest in the first leg of the Carabao League Cup semi-finals, and today they face Reading in an FA Cup round tie at Old Trafford, which they should easily win.
After a run of nine consecutive victories across all competitions, Man United fell to earth last weekend when Arsenal saw them off with a time-added-on winner at the Emirates Stadium.
Notwithstanding this, ten Hag has somehow rallied the players to believe in themselves and play some attractive football again.
The outcome against Reading looks like a foregone conclusion – and why not? Man United are bigger, stronger, better equipped, and one of the most in-form sides in English football right now.
Reading are a Championship mid-table team that will enjoy their visit to one of the world’s most famous stadiums.
Like all those in the football ecosystem, Reading will also know that an upset could somehow unfold at Old Trafford if everything falls into place for them, no matter how unlikely that may seem.
All the same, one cannot imagine ten Hag losing focus on this fixture, not after how he has worked this squad and gotten them to perform at a level that was unheard of at Old Trafford for almost a decade.
Ten Hag spoke passionately this week about trying to win Man United’s first trophy in six years.
Their last trophy was the Europa League, a tournament they appear to have become rather familiar with. On a night in May 2017, Jose Mourinho led them to glory.
With the League Cup and FA Cup on the horizon, ten Hag has a good chance of achieving some success for the club.
Ron Atkinson managed in 1983. Big Ron won the FA Cup that year and ended a six-year drought of silverware.
These statistics, as interesting as they may be, also tell a story about just how painful things have been for Man United.
Indeed, the last time they won the league was 10 years ago this May. This is terrible stuff for any Red Devil, and ten Hag, with all his promise, might yet emerge as a saviour of the club.
He’ll need to get past Reading to think about doing it in the FA Cup – the oldest and most celebrated club football tournament in the world.
The likes of Marcus Rashford, Wout Weghorst, Antony Matheus, Christian Eriksen, Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw are some, if not all, of the players that ten Hag can call upon to see them through today.
But as the fixtures begin to pile up, one suspects that ten Hag might opt to rest a few and still be able to progress to the next round.
Managed by former Man United star Paul Ince, Reading will be hoping Andy Carroll or Shane Long, with Premier League experience behind them, along with Angolan striker Lucas Joao, can carry them into the fifth round.
But it is a daunting task for any side trying to stop one that is chasing glory on four fronts, as Man United are.