The importance of the Europa League to Manchester United’s season
As the Saint Étienne fixture looms, there are few who would write United off against the French mediocres, but it appears that there are even fewer who believe that Jose Mourinho’s side could go all the way in Europe’s second most prestigious competition.
Fitness, periodization, rest and fixture congestion have perhaps been the most used terms lately when it comes to describing a team’s chances in any competition. After Leicester’s much celebrated league triumph of the previous season it became apparent just how important those things are and how hard it is to compete on multiple fronts as each one requires something different from the team.
The league obviously requires grit, consistency and ability to win ugly in order to reach any previously set target. The national cup competitions, on the other hand, demand that the teams be at their best on the given day as the knockout system doesn’t forgive lack of focus or a bad day at the office. That’s exactly why it’s possible for a lower-profile team to go all the way with a bit of luck.
But the European competitions are something else. Especially the Europa League because of the timing of the matches which requires from the participating teams to sometimes play up to 3 games in 7 days.
Manchester United’s form has drastically improved since the tournament came to its interlude period in December. Jose Mourinho’s side have conceded just 7 goals in 15 matches and lost only once (return leg in the EFL cup vs Hull), scoring 30 goals and winning on 11 occasions. The Portuguese gaffer has tried to explain the extreme difficulty of playing on Thursdays, but the fact remains that the problem is not exclusive to Manchester United.
So why do the Red Devils need to win this year’s Europa League?
1. First and foremost, being arguably the biggest club in the world, it’s in United’s genome to always go for the grand prize. The fact that they have never won the competition should add incentive to the players and the manager.
2. The Europa League has grown in stature over recent years and UEFA has the numbers to confirm that. Winning would bring much more than just prize money (which should be around €27m) to the Old Trafford club as their ever-growing global brand would receive a considerable boost. The prospect of playing in the UEFA Super Cup afterwards would bring a further €3m prize.
3. Automatic qualification to next year’s Champions League. Yes, the winner of the Europa League gets to play Champions League football the following season and United may just end up in a position where they’d have to take advantage of that funny rule. The Premier League appears to be a Sisyphean task for Man United as they continuously fail to enter the top four despite being just two points away from second-placed Tottenham and despite their last defeat being in October.
4. Mourinho would become an instant United legend. Unlike his predecessor, Jose Mourinho appears to enjoy a special relationship with most United fans. And what’s not to like about Mou? They’re playing in a much more exciting style, they’re competing for titles on multiple fronts and he’s just as outspoken and comical in his press conferences as his mentor, Louie van Gaal. European success would make him part of United’s rich folklore in an instant as United fans are dreaming of a manager who would bring back the glory days. The Europa League triumph would be a nice preview of things to come under the Special One, but as mentioned earlier, Manchester United have never claimed this particular competition before.
This post was contributed by Filip of footballscorechat