Football

Manchester United could be better off without the Europa League

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Manchester United have had an abysmal season by their standards - out of the title race, out of both domestic cup competitions and potentially on their way out of the Champions League following a 2-0 first-leg defeat to Greek champions Olympiacos.

But most significantly, they are out of the top four - even out of the top six. So as Manchester United lie seventh in the Premier League table and look like their hopes of playing in the Champions League next season are all but over, the question has to be asked:

Would fans prefer to not have European football if their only chance of it was the Europa League? The hardcore faithful would argue emphatically that they would prefer to play European football even if it meant playing in Europe's second-tier tournament. More competitions to enter for the Red Devils would certainly increase their chances of winning a trophy next season.

The argument that no European football for the Manchester side could be beneficial starts here, with rivals Liverpool - ironically England's most successful ever side in Europe. They have seen their fortunes dramatically improve with no participation in it this year.

This season, Liverpool appear more invigorated in every game they play and have been a real breath of fresh air in the Premier League, mounting their first realistic title challenge since 2008/09 in second position behind leaders Chelsea.

No doubt the form of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez has been key to this, but if they played on Thursday nights every other week followed by a league game at the weekend would they be as effective?

Liverpool's squad is not the biggest, with injuries in defence also stretching their limitations. Surely fatigue would settle in and that would be the excuse ifthey have faltered and faded.

But we have not seen this, as Liverpool's sole focus for the remainder of the season is just the Premier League - no European competition to distract them and pile up the fixtures, just 10 league games to the end of the season with a significant more amount of rest in between each one than their title rivals. This puts them in with a real chance of claiming the crown come May.

So it is arch-rivals Liverpool that Manchester United must look to for support if they finish outside of the top six, just like Liverpool did last term. Manchester United are in the hunt for European football this season, but there are two strong sides - Everton and Spurs - ahead of them, both in better form than the Red Devils themselves have been this season so there is a real possibility of finishing outside Europe.

Also, when you take a step back and look at every other English team that has competed in the Europa League in recent years - whether it be the group stages or the ridiculously early qualifying stages which start in July - their domestic form has suffered as a result. The possible Thursday - Saturday/Sunday schedule has had most English teams in the competition complaining about the congestion of fixtures.

Take a look at Tottenham's games after Europa League fixtures this season - they've only gained 13 points from a possible 30 after midweek matches in the competition. It is a bold claim to make, but Spurs could have been genuine title contenders if they weren't playing on Thursday nights.

With an extra few days to rest the squad, Tim Sherwood and his men would be fresh for the Premier League games at the weekend. They are only 10 points off the top, so 23 points from 30 could have seen the club joint-top with leaders Chelsea. Would Spurs have performed any differently not being in the Europa League? We'll never know, but surely they would have had a better chance.

Newcastle finished 16th and onlyfive points off the bottom after playing in the Europa League, despite finishing sixth the season beforehand to qualify for the competition. The Magpies started playing their season in early August during the qualification rounds for the competition, which clearly effected their demise late on in the season. 

Other examples of the Europa League being a hindrance are clear to see this season too, with Swansea sacking manager Michael Laudrup after his former side became embroiled in a relegation battle, despite never being troubled the previous two seasons and finishing ninth and 11th respectively.

Take a look at Wigan Athletic who were widely tipped to bounce straight back from their relegation b ut endured a mixed bag of results earlier this season following tough European adventure and parted company with manager Owen Coyle. They are in the play-off positions at the moment under new manager Uwe Rosler, whose team's form has coincidentally (or not) improved since being knocked out of the Europa League.

The one flaw in this is that Manchester United may fail to attract the big names in the summer with no European football to tempt potential targets, but they did make the shrewd signing of Juan Mata and tied Wayne Rooney down to a new deal recently, which shows they do have the power to sign the best even in their current predicament. 

In 2011/12, the Reds dropped down to the Europa League after finishing third in their group in the Champions League and got outplayed by Athletic Bilbao in the last 16 of the competition, losing 5-3 on aggregate.

United lost three out of their four games in the tournament, after being beaten by Ajax in the second leg of the last-32 2-1 at Old Trafford. So even if they qualify for the Europa League, there is a case to argue that David Moyes' side will have their eye on other competitions, like the FA Cup, Capital One Cup and of course the Premier League title.

So Manchester United fans, think again - a season of European obscurity may leave a gap in the mid-week schedule and a fair bit of ribbing from the blue side of Manchester, but surely a Premier League title at the end of the season, and, failing that, Champions League qualification would be welcomed more than a Europa League trophy?

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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