In a week after which Manchester United's season could be rendered effectively over, the club have suffered their first sucker punch yesterday at White Harte Lane. In truth, United's season has been on its last legs for quite some time but somehow, Louis van Gaal has managed to maintain an aspect of relevance beyond March. As such, he has allowed himself a bit of pomp in his media briefings reminding all who care to listen about the possibility of finishing the season in third place and with an FA Cup win.
Yesterday/s result confirmed that it will take a minor miracle for United to finish fourth let alone third. Despite the four point gap between the club and fourth, it is not feasible that United will make up five points on Manchester City in the six available games.
It leaves just the FA Cup tonic for Louis van Gaal between now and Wednesday. Having seen his spiky side at the end of the Spurs match, one wonders the kind of mood and indeed questions the manager will have to deal with on Friday in the pre-match presser IF United succumb to West Ham at the Boleyn Ground.
Incredibly, none of the above is the most damning thing about United this season. No. The information from the top is that the owners feel that Louis van Gaal should keep his job beyond the summer. Indeed, an FA Cup final appearance will just about do it for the Dutchman. To the owners, the club remains so successful commercially that there is little desire to make a managerial change. This has been and is the much dreaded Glazer model.
It's all nice and pretty having a side of the youthful exuberance that United have got now, but the club is desperately short of men and leaders. In Martial, Rashford and Lingard, United possess an attack that is still very much a work in progress. Those three will achieve some incredible feats in their careers but they cannot possibly be asked to revive this Manchester United side whilst playing in positions other than their favoured ones.
It's amazing how the manager quickly restores everyone to their natural positions when United are chasing a game. Overthinking situations and attempting to be too clever in the most obvious situations is van Gaal's legacy. It couldn't have been more apparent than when United got a free kick and played the ball back into their pass pass formation only to succumb to the pressing of Spurs and launch it long up top. If that was the target all along, why not launch the ball from the set piece under no pressure in the first place? It would certainly cause more problems than a pass under pressure would! But that would be too simplistic eh? So we'll just pass it around and find a quadratic route to goal.
It's hard to remember the last time West Ham were favourites in a game against United. Slaven Bilic has got his side doing the basics in the most simplistic way. It will fly in the face of how United will attempt to go about the replay. What the Hammers lack in quality, they make up for it with passion, heart and desire such that going 2-0 down at home against Arsenal cannot dampen their spirits. United will take some effort to avert sucker punch 2.