The Europa League will generally provide an entertaining diversion from the rigours of domestic football. All clubs will want to aspire to the Champions League where the giants of the game hang out but the second tier competition can, as Manchester United fans know, provide a genuine chance of securing silverware.
The 2019/20 Europa League campaign hasn’t started brightly for United and, as the team struggles in the Premier League, some fans will see it as an irrelevance. However, with English clubs offering the biggest challenge in this competition, the Red Devils remain in the hunt for their second title in four years.
Manchester United’s performances in the Europa League have tended to mirror their domestic displays. After two games, they have scored just once but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have yet to concede. A hard-fought, 1-0 win over Astana was followed by a goalless draw away to AZ Alkmaar and it leaves United in second place in Group L.
This is where the format of the competition works in Manchester United’s favour. As Harry Redknapp once said when he was manager of Tottenham Hotspur, it’s easy enough to qualify for the Europa League but it’s tough to get out of it. Two teams go through to the knockouts and, with Astana making up the numbers, it looks to be a straight fight between United, Alkmaar and current table-toppers Partizan Belgrade. Manchester United’s displays haven’t exactly been convincing but, with home games against Belgrade and Alkmaar to come, Solskjaer’s men are favourites to progress.
Into the Unknown
The format of the Europa League offers a journey into the unknown at this stage. Clubs will be aiming to qualify but with four teams set to drop down from the Champions League ahead of the knockouts, pundits are unaware of the strength of future opposition.
What we do know at present is that United are second favourites to lift the trophy in May. The Red Devils are behind last year’s runners up Arsenal and you can find many football tips suggesting that two English sides will be contesting the final for the second year in succession.
Premier League clubs tend to be among the strongest in the Europa League. EPL sides have won the title in two of the last three seasons but can United continue that trend?
Key to Success
The question of priorities continues to be a hot topic in football. United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may feel that his team needs to concentrate on the Premier League and to target Champions League qualification. With big clubs such as Manchester City and Spurs dropping points, the target of a top four finish remains a possibility despite Manchester United’s slow start to the season.
However, the Europa League offers the chance of silverware and an alternative route into the UCL. United can do it but only if the manager fields his strongest side and takes the competition seriously.