It says a lot for Manchester United’s new reality that the only “Treble” the club can achieve this season is an FA Cup, Capital One Cup and Europa League triple triumph.
For most clubs, such a feat would be remarkable. For United, even in the midst of the post-Sir-Alex-Ferguson-slump, it seems a somewhat less glamorous chase.
In the EFL Cup, United have only had to play one genuinely good side on the road to the final against Southampton in the shape of Manchester City, while in the FA Cup and Europa League, United have avoided any serious competition – even if Jose Mourinho’s men have made it tougher than it should have been at times.
But with the FA Cup pitting United against Premier League leaders Chelsea and the chance to win the first of three trophies this weekend in the EFL Cup final, the treble bid suddenly has a bit more credibility about it.
United were left embarrassed by the runaway Premier League table-toppers when they met at Stamford Bridge in October. Pedro opened the scoring after 30 seconds and it went from bad to worse from there.
Since, United has gone unbeaten in the Premier League, though a number of costly draws has meant the end of their title bid and has placed its top-four aspirations in jeopardy. Result against United aside, Chelsea has hardly set the world alight against the other competing teams in the Premier League, but its ruthless streak against the lesser lights of the competition see Antonio Conte’s eight points clear at the top of the table.
With a little under three months until the end of the season, Chelsea remain the most likely to take out the crown – which is why a United win in the FA Cup would go a long way to re-establishing the team’s credentials among England’s elite and fire an early warning shot ahead of next season.
And while the EFL Cup and Europa League may not be the most prestigious trophies up for grabs, that United remain in the running for both of them, as well as the FA Cup must make the “Treble” the goal for Mourinho. It would be a wonderful reward for United’s improvement since his appointment.
The Portuguese manager has never made a secret of the fact that winning the Premier League and/or returning to the Champions League were his ultimate goals for his first season in charge. He has never hidden his disdain for the Europa League and despite his success in the Capital One Cup in his Chelsea days, winning it would hardly have been on Mourinho’s radar until after the win over City in October.
Of course, with United sitting in sixth in the league, the importance of winning as many Premier League fixtures as possible before the end of the season should not be lost on anyone, much less Mourinho and surely finishing as high as possible in the league will probably remain the priority for the manager.
But the deeper United go in the FA Cup and the Europa League and the biggest fixtures that come as a result, the more enticing the idea of a treble – no matter the stature of the competitions – becomes.
For Mourinho, it would be the next best thing to having been able to win the league in his first season in charge.
There is still a long way to go to achieve such a feat, but an EFL Cup triumph would be a fitting initial reward for the vast improvement in performances, results and squad at United since Mourinho’s appointment.