Gary Neville has called March a “big month” for Manchester United and watching their games it’s easy to see why.
Premier League games against title contenders and top four rivals combined with Atletico Madrid’s visit to the Champions League is a huge test for United.
After caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick called on the team to maintain momentum in their quest for a top four finish, Saturday’s goalless draw against Watford left United just two points clear of West Ham and Arsenal.
They are still fourth, but the Gunners have three games in hand and after winning all of their games in February, Mikel Arteta’s side currently look set to claim a Champions League place.
Although he saw his side create plenty of chances against Watford, Rangnick regretted United’s waste in front of goal.
“It’s like two lost points again that we should have easily won,” he said. “I think we did everything except score and had enough chances to win this game. But we didn’t. And that’s why we drew and lost two important points in a very important.”
Having won just twice in seven matches in February, including an FA Cup exit on penalties against Middlesbrough, what does March hold for United and could the club find themselves without a trophy for a fifth consecutive year?
Manchester United matches in March
March 6 – Manchester City (a); kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports – Premier League
March 12 – Tottenham (h); kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports – Premier League
March 15 – Atlético Madrid (h); kick off 8 p.m. – Champions League
March 20 – Liverpool (a); kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports – Premier League
When asked if March could turn out to be a defining month, Rangnick said: “It could be, but it only makes sense to take one game after another.”
United will start the month by taking on Premier League leaders, Manchester Cityto March 6 at the Etihad Stadium. The champions have dropped points just twice since losing to Crystal Palace in October, including in their last home game which they lost 3-2 to Tottenham.
Despite this, City dominated throughout the season and nearly reached the Champions League quarter-finals after dismantling their last 16 opponents, Sporting Lisbon, 5-0 in the first leg of their draw.
The previous Manchester derby in November was former United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s penultimate game and ended in a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford.
United will then host Tottenham to 12th of March, who have been inconsistent under new head coach Antonio Conte. Spurs beat City and Leeds in February but also lost to relegation-threatened Burnley.
The two clubs were under different managers when they last clashed in October – Tottenham were led by Nuno Espirito Santo, while United were under Solskjaer. The match ended 3-0 in favor of United, with news of Santo’s departure quickly following the result.
Following this, United will turn their attention to the Champions League on March 15 like Atlético Madrid visit for the second leg of their round of 16.
The first leg ended in a draw at the Wanda Metropolitano as Joao Felix’s early header was canceled out by Anthony Elanga’s late strike – the teenager’s first in the competition.
With the away goals rule abolished by UEFA this season, Rangnick’s side will face a tough test to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals. If United are eliminated by Atleti, this season could mark five years since their last trophy, when they won the League Cup in 2017 under Jose Mourinho.
United will end March by traveling to Anfield on March 20th to deal with liverpoolwho sit second in the Premier League, six points behind City.
Liverpool emerged victorious against Chelsea after a penalty shootout to win the Carabao Cup and remain in contention to claim a potential quadruple this season. Jurgen Klopp’s side are in the midst of an impressive unbeaten streak and haven’t lost so far in 2022.
United’s last encounter with Liverpool came at Old Trafford in October, where they were embarrassingly beaten 5-0 by their North West derby rivals as Salah netted a hat-trick.
Elanga, Sancho bright spots for Man Utd?
Manchester United can provide some comfort in the apparent gloom of March.
Academy graduate Anthony Elanga is emerging as a shining talent, having scored twice in United’s last three games as the 19-year-old found the net against Atletico Madrid and Leeds .
His performance against the Spanish side was such that Rangnick praised the teenager after the match.
“Anthony plays like a dream has come true. It’s a joy to watch him play and I wish some of the other players used him as an example and a role model,” Rangnick said.
“He’s having fun on the pitch and that’s how I hope we’ll play together in the future.”
Elanga has featured in every Manchester United game since the start of the year and appears to be key to Rangnick’s plans, having started in a number of those games and he will likely be called up again throughout March .
Jadon Sancho had a rocky start to life as a Manchester United player after joining the club in a £73m deal last summer but has started to take off in recent weeks.
The 21-year-old scored in the club’s 1-1 draw with Southampton and registered two assists as United beat Leeds in a 4-2 win at Elland Road.
Sancho has averaged 2.12 assists per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, ranking him in the top 11% of midfielders and attacking wingers in the division. The winger averages 4.17 shot creation actions and 2.33 completed dribbles per 90 minutes, placing him in the top 12 and 14 percent respectively among other players in a similar position in the league.
Sancho’s budding influence on games will be key to continuing to provide chances for United forwards – whether or not they capitalize on those opportunities is another perspective.
Neville: The test is now next month
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville speaking on the Gary Neville podcast after Manchester United beat Leeds 4-2:
Manchester United must become more difficult to face.
It’s a big month and this month is going to define the season in terms of finishing in the top four and progressing in the Champions League.
But the test is now next month. This period was always going to come and it is here.
It’s inconceivable that coming out of Tottenham at home, Manchester City away and Liverpool away they get seven to nine points. As a United fan, I hope they do, but they could easily come out of those three games with four points or five points or three points – you don’t know. These are the type of games in any season in the last five or ten years that you could lose.
If you’re Ralf Rangnick, you have to plan that you’re going to drop points in those three games, not that you plan or want it to, but it could happen. Those points he got from these last games will be needed. Arsenal still have games in hand, as do Tottenham. There’s still a long way to go, but Manchester United are in a decent position.
If you had told me when Rangnick took over with the dating streak they have, that’s where I wish they were, maybe a point or two ahead. I still don’t think it’s straightforward and I still think it could turn around pretty quickly because I don’t think it’s stable behind the scenes at all.
It’s really important that they get that fourth place.