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Manchester United’s Champions League chances dented by Everton defeat

Manchester United suffered their eighth defeat of the season at Goodison - a serious blow to their chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Update:
Cristiano Ronaldo. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive BrunskillGetty

More woe for Manchester United, who were dealt another setback in their quest to qualify for next season’s Champions League after losing 1-0 at Everton on Saturday afternoon. Nothing went right for Ralf Rangnick’s team at Goodison - the game being decided by one solitary goal, an Anthony Gordon strike took a big deflection off Harry Maguire and wrong-footed David de Gea on 27 minutes.

Marcus Rashford, making his 200th Premier League start, had forced Jordan Pickford into action during the opening exchanges but United offered little after going a goal down - despite dominating possession. Their best chance came late in stoppage-time when Cristiano Ronaldo directed a half volley straight at Pickford.

The result was a tonic for Frank Lampard’s Everton who edged away from the relegation zone. It was the opposite for United, who were looking for a win which would have pulled them level with Spurs in fourth. They remain seventh on 51 points, three behind Tottenham who visit Aston Villa later on Saturday. Sixth-placed West Ham, who are also on 51 points but with a superior goal difference, are in action tomorrow away at Brentford.

United have picked up just five points from their last five games and Rangnick admitted that today’s performance was simply not up to scratch. “Whenever we score first we have the confidence to win games, but when we concede first we lose our way a bit. If you don’t score against a team who conceded three against Burnley in midweek then you don’t deserve anything. The players should be eager to play in the Champions League, but as long as we play like today they don’t deserve it,” he said after the game.

Can Manchester United still qualify for the Champions League?

So what chance have United of dislodging Spurs from fourth place and securing their place in next season’s Champions League? As it stands, they won’t be playing in Europe at all - not even in the Europa League. Rangnick’s team are seventh on 51 points with seven games left to play. Mathematically, there are a maximum 21 points still up for grab so at best, they could finish on 72 points - providing they win all of their remaining games.

The problem now is that it does not entirely depend on what they do, but on the teams who are above them, some of whom have games in hand. If Spurs beat Villa, they will be seven points ahead - that means United would have to win all of their remaining matches and hope Spurs lose two and draw two between now and May. Another important factor is that out of all of the teams chasing fourth place, United have the worst goal difference (+7), compared to Spurs (+15), Arsenal (+8) and West Ham (+11). So even finishing level on points with Spurs or West Ham wouldn’t be enough.

Looking at the home straight, none of the four teams have a particularly easy run-in. All four clubs will meet opponents who are in the top six at some point between now and 22 May - a few of those games are between direct rivals so the standings could change dramatically.

Spurs have to play Liverpool and Arsenal - on paper that is arguably the least demanding run of fixtures. Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, who at one point had three games in hand, appear to be in freefall after losing to Crystal Palace last week and Brighton today. They face Chelsea, Man United, West Ham and Tottenham - probably the toughest run-in out of all of those aspiring to finish fourth. The Hammers are juggling their last Premier League fixtures with their Europa League campaign. David Moyes’ team must play Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City between now and the end of the season.

As for United, they have a tough trip to Anfield a week on Tuesday, followed by Arsenal (away) and Chelsea at home. It is unlikely that any of the four clubs chasing the final Champions League berth will win all of their remaining games, so anything could happen but today’s defeat at Goodison complicates the task even more for Rangnick’s men.

Manchester United’s run-in

16 April: Norwich  (H)

19 April: Liverpool (A)

23 April: Arsenal (A)

2 May: Brentford (H)

7 May: Brighton (A)

15 May: Chelsea (H)

22 May: Crystal Palace (A)

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