Less than an hour after the Reds’ exit from the European stage on Wednesday night, Darron Gibson faced the MUTV cameras and spoke passionately of the task now facing Manchester United.
“We either lie down and let the whole season go,” he said, “or we stand back up and fight for the championship.
“We’ve got the experience in the dressing room to do it – a lot of the players have been in this position before. We've got to pick ourselves up for the weekend because we're still in the race for the title.”
They’re the sort of rousing words you’d expect from a footballer following defeat. In fact, you could argue Gibson’s rallying cry was as predictable as the cries of “shoot” that emanate from the stands these days whenever the Irishman gets on the ball.
And yet his words, delivered with steely determination, were far from hollow: he truly believed in what he was saying. And why shouldn’t the United players be confident? Okay, they’ve lost to Chelsea in the league and been dumped out of Europe in the space of a week, but now it’s down to a sprint finish. Only five games remain and, for the Reds at least, no other distractions.
Of course, if United win all five it will count for nothing if Chelsea do the same: the Blues have the upper hand and boast a two-point lead and superior goal difference. But when has this season ever been predictable?
There’s no point drawing up a list of each team’s remaining fixtures and examining where points may or may not be dropped. No amount of logic can legislate for results like United losing at Burnley or Chelsea getting hammered by Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. This season, more than any other in recent memory, has thrown up shock defeats, late drama and rotten luck. Don’t discount it happening again.
Driving United, too, is an all-consuming desire to make history. “Nobody’s ever won the league four years in a row,” Rio Ferdinand told Inside United this month. “We’d have to go down as the best English team in history [if we achieved