Manchester United’s future looks promising but Michael Carrick is only interested in the here and now, with the veteran midfielder as focused on a top-four finish as Europa League glory.
Jose Mourinho’s first campaign in the Old Trafford hot seat has regularly veered from promise to frustration.
United have won the EFL Cup in a season that started with Community Shield success, but there remains a chance they could fall short in their quest for Champions League qualification.
Missing out on European football’s premier competition for a second successive season would be a huge blow, although Europa League glory would assure them of a place back at the continent’s top table.
United’s hopes of winning the competition remain on track after Thursday’s 1-1 quarter-final first-leg draw at Anderlecht, but Mourinho will not put all his eggs in that basket until a top-four finish is beyond them.
Such an outcome is far from Carrick’s mind, with the midfielder scoffing at the suggestion that Sunday’s match against leaders Chelsea offers them a chance to lay down an important marker for next season.
“Forget about next season, we have enough to play for this season,” the 35-year-old, out of contract in the summer, said.
“We are not looking any further ahead of that. The Premier League top four is still an opportunity.
“People are saying about the Europa League maybe being the best chance for us but you cannot look at it like that.
“Football is football and a lot can happen. There is no way we can give up on the top four.
“It is still close. Yeah, we have got a tough run-in but it is still close.
“It is frustrating. If we were really struggling football-wise and were miles away, then in some ways you can’t accept it but you can see why you are struggling.
“But we have been playing so well for so long it is just that edge, that little bit of something, to finish teams off.
“As a team and a squad we’ll grow and develop that. There’s a lot of positives to take from our performances for some months now.”
United head into the weekend four points off a Champions League berth, although boast at least one game in hand on all those above them.
Crunch trips to top-four rivals Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham lie in wait in the weeks following Sunday’s home clash with Chelsea, who look bound for the title after faltering so badly under Mourinho last term.
United could have challenged them had they converted some of their league-high 12 draws into victories – a source of great frustration given a 21-match unbeaten league run that highlights their promising attitude and aptitude.
“I can’t compare us to any other team, to be honest,” Carrick said. “We concentrate on ourselves.
“We believe we will get better, we will improve. There are a lot of good signs.
“I don’t want to compare us to anyone else. I am not going down that road.
“The draws are killing us. In some ways you are better off losing one and winning one than doing what we have been doing having drawn so many.
“But at the same time going on a run like we have done shows we have a bit of steel and have a bit of character about us. It’s not easy.
“There are positives but at the moment it is not quite enough for us.”
Thursday’s match in Belgium was a prime example of this season’s problems, but Carrick believes they are close to clicking into gear.
The 35-year-old was as frustrated as his manager about the lack of cutting edge against Anderlecht, but is sure the goals and wins will come.
“You have got more problems if you are struggling in games,” Carrick added.
“There are an awful lot of good things that we can take from it and an awful lot of good signs.
“So in that respect we are not in a bad place. But we need to find as a team a way to win games, especially when you are playing so well, as we have done for quite some time.
“I don’t think we are far away.”