Manchester United fans are probably starting to understand what it’s like to be a supporter of any other club. Back-to-back home defeats at Old Trafford in the Premier League have left many fans questioning what is to come this season and what can and can’t be achieved in the years ahead. While even the most partisan of fans will struggle to defend a position of a successful title defence, many fans are now starting to wonder about a top four place. Of course, it’s impossible to know precisely what will happen in the months ahead, but we’ve complied some data to give fans an idea of what might be in store for David Moyes' team based on previous years.
The race for '4th spot' has existed since 2002 when English teams were offered an additional Champions League place by UEFA (via a qualification route). Since then the average number of points required for 4th place has been 70 (See here). However, since 2008 the standard has risen slightly, with 71.33 points required for what is usually the last Champions League spot. With United currently on 22 points, the Red Devils need to capture 2.15 points per game from here to May, in order to hit the magic 70 point mark. That's roughly seven wins from every ten games.
Having lost five games so far the omens don’t look good. Since 2007, no team has lost more than 10 games and finished inside the top 4 places. Mind you, Newcastle lost 11 games and finished 3rd in 2003 while Everton lost a 13 (that's one-third of all league games!) and still beat Liverpool to 4th spot in 2005. However, 61 points was enough for 4th that year; the second lowest total ever.
An increasingly competitive Premier League since 2008, thanks to the performances of Tottenham and Manchester City, suggest that stats since 2008 are probably the best guide to what lies ahead for Manchester United. The table below shows the number of games the 4th placed team has lost and points accumulated from 2008 to 2013.
Here are the fixtures that Manchester United still have to play against teams currently ranked above them in the Premier League, that could be a source of potential losses: Home to Tottenham (Jan 1st), Away to Chelsea (Jan 19th), Away to Arsenal (Feb 11th), Home to Man City (March 1st), Home to Liverpool (March 15th), Away to Newcastle (April 5th), Away to Everton (April 19th), Away to Southampton (May 11th). This is not to mention other 'surprise' defeats that could occur in the league over the next 25 games.
While Champions League qualification is certainly within the grasp of this Manchester United squad, the stats would suggest that they can't afford to make things any harder than they are. Otherwise, they could find the easiest route of entry will be to win the Champions League outright this year.