Manchester United are currently enjoying some warm-weather training in Dubai following their progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
United beat Derby 2-0 last weekend, and fans were confused by the team’s over-enthusiastic celebration of Romelu Lukaku’s goal. The players joined in a huddle and jumped up and down together, which seemed excessive given it was just a goal against a Championship team in a game they were favourites to win.
Jose Mourinho revealed after the final whistle that avoiding a replay meant they would be able to go to Dubai this week, explaining why the players were so happy with the striker.
While they were away, escaping the bitter cold of Manchester, former United defender Rio Ferdinand made the draw for the next round of the competition. In rehearsals, along with Dennis Wise, he managed to draw United against Liverpool, which would have been a mouth-watering tie.
In the real thing, Ferdinand pulled Yeovil Town out of the pot, sealing United’s fixture against the lowest-ranked team still remaining in the competition. Yeovil are currently 21st in the League 2 table, four points clear of the relegation zone, having lost six of their past 10 league games.
Yet this is the second time in four years that they will face United in the competition. Last time, they lost 2-0 at home, courtesy of goals from Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria. However, United had to wait until 25 minutes from full-time to break the deadlock.
United will travel to Huish Park again at the end of this month and will be looking for a similar result, even though the team will look very different. Six of the starting players that day have since left the club, with another, James Wilson, out on loan.
Yet there’s little chance of Jose Mourinho playing an inexperienced team. The United manager values the importance of winning trophies and usually plays a strong lineup, regardless of the competition or the opposition.
With the Premier League no longer on the table and the semifinal defeat to Bristol City confirming their exit from one of the competitions they won last season, the EFL Cup, Mourinho will likely be focussing on the FA Cup as his most realistic chance of silverware this season.
The Champions League is, of course, still a possibility, with an easier draw against Sevilla ahead, as much as people may dismiss their chances. Mourinho has won the competition with two teams before, and neither Porto nor Inter Milan were considered anywhere near the top sides in Europe at the start of those campaigns.
However, United would need very kind draws and exceptional luck if they were to reach the final and win.
The FA Cup is Mourinho’s best shot at silverware, and he will take that very seriously. Even with a tough away game against Tottenham Hotspur to follow days later, you would imagine United will take their star players to Yeovil.
Mourinho has only won the competition once before, and that came with a victory in extra time over his current club. Didier Drogba scored the all-important goal just four minutes before the final whistle to avoid penalties and secure the win.
The manager celebrated in front of the Chelsea fans, putting his hand under his chin, telling the supporters to keep their chin up. They had been second-best to United in the league that season but at least had something to show for their efforts when lifting the FA Cup.
Mourinho will likely view the competition in the same way this season. It’s never the priority trophy when looking ahead in August, but when you’re left with no chance of claiming the title, it’s not a bad way to end the campaign.
Louis van Gaal certainly looked happy enough when he ended United’s 13-year drought in the competition to win it in 2016. His happiness was short-lived, though, with it being leaked almost immediately after the game that he was set to be sacked and replaced with Mourinho.
The Portuguese manager’s arrival was supposed to oversee another halcyon period with the club, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way yet. Winning the Europa League and EFL Cup was enjoyable enough, and getting back in the Champions League was very much welcomed, but it’s hardly the height of success that United fans became accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Many United fans would view finishing second and lifting the FA Cup as a successful season, with the hopes that another transfer window can see Mourinho bring in the final missing pieces of the puzzle. Yet with City outspending United for the past three years, there’s nothing to suggest that Pep Guardiola won’t further strengthen his team to see them eclipse United once more.
But if the supporters can finish as close to their rivals as possible this season and have another day out at Wembley, they will likely be happy enough. Ferdinand has boosted their chances by choosing a weak opponent, but there is still a long way to go, although it’s safe to assume that Mourinho will treat this competition with maximum respect. He has to.