The UEFA Europa League is the second most coveted European cup competition after the Champions League. In fact, since its rebrand in 2009 – it was previously known as the UEFA Cup – it seems to have carried extra gravitas.
With the bonus of qualifying for next years Champions League, games have been hotly contested on Thursday nights. Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Manchester United – three of Europe’s preeminent teams – have all won the competition in the last decade. The latter succeeded in 2017, reaching the final again this year, but what has changed for United since then?
Four years is a relatively long time but seems to be a lifetime in football. The nomads of the sport are no secret, and one-club men appear to be a fleeting phenomenon. In today’s game, Marcus Rashford would be a likely bet to become one, but he would be an anomaly. He and Paul Pogba are the only two players in the starting XI that will probably start on May 26th.
From the substitutes, only David de Gea, Phil Jones, and Anthony Martial also remain, although they could be on the way out this summer. On the opposite side of the field, Ajax had a young Donny van de Beek on the bench, who will probably start the game as a United sub in this edition.
After years of rebuilding, United seem to have a squad now, with talisman Bruno Fernandes as the team’s driving force. A strengthened defence backs him with Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and a rejuvenated Luke Shaw. He was in United’s squad in 2017 but wasn’t included during the final due to injury.
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Since 2017 Manchester United have gone from ‘The Special One’ in José Mourinho to club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Mourinho came with a lot of promise, having won three Premier League titles with Chelsea and a plethora of trophies everywhere else he has been. However, even though he did capture silverware at United, his demonstrative demeanour and public hanging of players wore on the squad and eventually led to his departure.
The squad seems to have a certain joy about it again under new management, and even Michael Carrick, who was on the bench in 2017, is part of the first-team coaching staff.
There was cause for optimism in both years. Although, in 2017, they were doing poorly in the league, reaching a European final made it feel like Mourinho was moving in the right direction. However, with Solskjær and some fantastic signings, United are second in the league. With further additions in the transfer market, they could be back challenging for the Premier League next season.
Manchester United are a massive club and should be competing in the Champions League. However, this is an enormous competition and a chance to add some much-needed silverware before hopefully challenging on all fronts next season.