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Paul McGrath: Title chase unrealistic for Man United so Ten Hag must target glory in Cups

Red Devils two transfer windows short of hitting level of Man City and Arsenal

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is making progress at Old Trafford but his side is just short of being a title-winning team. Photo: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire.© PA

Manchester United's striker Marcus Rashford is in brilliant form. Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images© AFP via Getty Images

Casemiro has been a big success at Manchester United. Photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images© Manchester United via Getty Imag

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Casemiro of Manchester United in action during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on January 06, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)© Manchester United via Getty Imag

Paul McGrathSunday World

IN theorya home win for Manchester United against Leicester City this afternoonwould insert the Red Devils right into the Premier League title race.

They began the weekend five points behind both Manchester City and Arsenal, with the Gunners having a game in hand on both the Manchester clubs.

With plenty of matches still to go, there is ample time for United to make up the ground and pull off the most unlikely League win, one that their supporters would savour forever.

That is considering where the team was after two matches this season, pointless and with people wondering what new manager Erik ten Hag was at.

Jettisoning Cristiano Ronaldo, signing Casemiro from Real Madrid, turning Luke Shaw into a cracking centre-half and a brilliant return to form by striker Marcus Rashford have all helped to turn United’s campaign around by 180 degrees.

But it will not be enough.

For while the theory of a Premier League win is fine, the reality is different.

First off, I still argue that United are, at least, two transfer windows, and three arriving world-class players in those windows, off being a title team.

Nothing I have seen from United of late has moved me from that opinion.

I write across the page about the quality of the Arsenal-Manchester City match last Wednesday night.

There are players in the Manchester United team and squad who are just not now up to that level.

The practicality is all against a United title surge too, for they have already played all four matches against City and Arsenal this season.

Thus they cannot make points up by winning a head-to-head – they already need favours from others to reel in the teams who were joint leaders yesterday morning.

And Manchester United still have to play Liverpool, Spurs and Newcastle away.

Would you back them right now to take nine points from those games? No, nor would I.

Next Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final appearance against Newcastle United means United’s home Premier League tie against Brentford, scheduled for next Saturday, has had to be postponed.

When you are in a title race, you want points in the bag, not yet another game in hand.

It’s rare that all your games in hand turn into three points.

No, for me, the Cups are where United are at this season.

They are in that Carabao Cup Final, are still in the FA Cup and will now fancy their chances of knocking Barcelona out of the Europa League at Old Trafford next Thursday night.

Manchester United's striker Marcus Rashford is in brilliant form. Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images© AFP via Getty Images

One Cup win would be silverware on the sideboard for the first time since 2018.

Two Cup wins would be great, all three would be downright fantastic.

Especially as a Europa League triumph guarantees not only a place in the 2023/4 Champions League, but also a top seeding, too, in that competition.

Being in with the big boys again would allow United to, again, go after the best players in the transfer market.

After all, what top man wants to hear the words, “we’re in the Europa League next season” as against “we’re in the Champions League next season.”

Nope, to get the best players United have to be in next season’s Champions League.

They are en route to doing that through a high Premier League finish anyway.


But Ten Hag will not want to give any encouragement to chasing Newcastle United or Spurs by slipping up this afternoon.

Having got themselves into a really promising position, and ensured that their fans are right behind them, this is not the time for Manchester United to give it all away again.

Leicester City are playing well of late and the once-doubted Brendan Rodgers is no longer on any Premier League sack race list.

The glory days of Claudio Raneiri’s title triumph are long gone for Leicester, along with most of the players who fashioned that incredible win.

But the FA Cup victory of a couple of seasons ago shows that a kick remains in Leicester City if you take them for granted.

And all the top English clubs, not to mention the best continental ones too, will be queueing up to buy Belgian midfield schemer Youri Tielemans off them in the summer.

It seems Tielemans will leave the King Power Stadium then.

But Manchester United’s medium term future rests on who arrives at the club in July and August.

That is the time for them to kick on.

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