The date was 11th September, 2021- Manchester United vs Newcastle United in the Premier League- Ronaldo, returning to Old Trafford on his second debut for the club- scores two goals - United win the game 4-1.
I am sure everyone remembers this game, the game after which United fans were dreaming of winning trophies, of winning the league. Signing serial winners like Raphael Varane and Europe's hottest property Jadon Sancho, anything seemed possible. It was the perfect Ronaldo return that we all wanted ever since he had left for Real Madrid. It felt like it was written in the stars. The script was set.
But as the season went on, it became another disappointing and underwhelming campaign for the Reds. Frustrating draws and abysmal defeats ultimately led to the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and the hiring of an interim manager- Ralf Rangnick. While some would say Rangnick steadied the drowning ship to a certain extent, statistically, Rangnick has won the fewest games as a United manager after being in charge for 21 games since 1986.
United will be seeing another season without any trophy after crashing out of all competitions and not being in contention for the league. Cristiano Ronaldo will be finishing a season without a trophy for the first time in 16 years. While the hopes for glory were shattered far before the upcoming season end run-in, there is still some light at the end of the tunnel if United can manage to finish fourth and secure a Champions League spot next season. But it won't be easy.
Let's have a look at the clubs battling for fourth place and what we can expect to see at the end of the season.
1. Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs are currently fourth on the league table with 54 points from 30 games, and are in pole position to take away the Champions League spot. Conte's men are on the back of a dominating 5-1 victory against Newcastle, and have won their last three league games. Apart from the usual prolific duo Kane and Son, new signing Kulusevski has made a positive impact. If Spurs play their cards right and do not slip up, they can finish fourth.
Arsenal have the same number of points as Spurs but see themselves fifth on the league table, behind on goal difference, but having played one less game. Arteta's men have looked good this season but have lost two of their last three league games. The Gunners have impressed the lot with young players like Smith Rowe, Saka, Ødegaard, and veterans like Lacazette. Mathematically, Arsenal could cross Spurs and take away the fourth spot. At the moment, the two London clubs look like favorites to finish in the top four. The north London derby, set to take place on 13th May, could turn out to be the decider.
3. West Ham United
West Ham are sixth in the table with 51 points from 31 games. While seeing West Ham in the top six may be a surprise for some, the Hammers have played extremely well this season and deserve to be there. Moyes' men have won three out of their last five games. If West Ham do not lose a game and if other contenders fail to win, fourth place still may be on the cards for them. It looks unlikely, but not impossible. They will need their star players like Bowen, Antonio, Soucek, and RIce, among others, to be at their best to have any hope.
4. Manchester United
Manchester United are sadly seventh on the league table, with the same points as West Ham, but having a lesser goal difference. United, however, have a game in hand over West Ham. Looking at the league table, we can say that United can still finish fourth. But it will not be less than climbing a mountain, especially when the Reds will be facing Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea in their remaining fixtures. Ronaldo and co. will need to be in top form, and the stars above will have to favor us.
Chelsea and Wolves
A special mention needs to be given to Chelsea and Wolves, who may still well be in the battle for fourth place.
Chelsea are currently sitting comfortably in third place with 59 points from 29 games. Tuchel's men are in fine form, winning four of their last five games. While the Russia-Ukraine conflict has created some complications for them, the Blues should be sailing over to the Champions League next season. However, they cannot afford to be complacent as a few slip-ups may put the pressure back on them.
Wolves, on the other hand, are eighth in the table with 49 points from 31 games. Bruno Lage has done a decent job for the Dingles this season and has won three out of their last five league games. Securing European football next season is still possible for the Wanderers, but finishing fourth seems highly improbable.
But we need to remember that in football anything is possible. Stranger things have happened before. It is still very hard to predict the outcome of the season. Only time will tell what's in store for us in the future. Whatever it may be, it will surely be exciting!
Now, as the Premier League enters its final stage of the season, we are set for a blockbuster finish. Man City and Liverpool will be fighting it hard for the title, whereas four clubs will be looking to grab the final Champions League spot for the next season.
There can be no more errors, no room for mistakes, no time for excuses. Each team has to be at its very best and play like warriors. For United, a fourth spot is still possible. After all, we are Manchester United and 'we'll never die, we'll never die.'
Wriiten by: Kushagra Varma