Defeat to Chelsea on Monday night may have signalled just a second loss in 29 outings for United, but it is fair to say that their momentum has stalled since beating Southampton to win the EFL Cup at the end of last month.
A Premier League draw with Bournemouth at Old Trafford a week later, seeing them left frustrated when trying to break down the 10-man Cherries in a fiery affair, was followed up by a 1-1 draw in Rostov-on-Don and that limp 1-0 loss to the Blues when themselves on the wrong end of a big refereeing decision.
It leaves the Red Devils at somewhat of a crossroads, now out of the FA Cup and six points adrift of Liverpool in fourth place, albeit with two games in hand to play on their rivals, following a run of four draws in their last six league outings.
A fourth victory at Wembley Stadium in the space of a year to see off Southampton does certainly offer hope for supporters that Jose Mourinho is the right man to bring long-term success back to the club, with the EFL Cup often a precursor to even better things as far as the Portuguese’s recent history in the competition goes.
Mourinho has now openly admitted that the Europa League tops his list of priorities this term, something you certainly did not expect him – or any other top-six manager – to say at the start of the campaign, as this is a competition that is often maligned for the simple fact that it is not the Champions League.
With the carrot at the end of the stick being an automatic spot in Europe’s showpiece competition next season, Mourinho knows full well that overcoming four more sides to lift the cup is a more attainable target than overhauling both Arsenal and Liverpool in the race for fourth.
Finishing in, by their standards, a lowly sixth place this term is certainly not how Mourinho will have envisaged his first campaign at the Theatre of Dreams ending, but a domestic cup in the bag and European equivalent potentially to come will be a saving grace.
A quick turnaround in matches this week, seeing them make the trek to Russia for the first leg before taking on Chelsea four days later, could well take its toll come Thursday, though the Red Devils boast a fine record on home soil in European competition – 15 games without defeat now, 12 of those ending in victory.
United did crash out at this stage of the competition 12 months ago, however, when suffering a tough-to-take aggregate defeat to rivals Liverpool, and their stuttered run of form over the past fortnight certainly does not make this a formality.