Ever since Manchester United failed to get out of what was an average Champions League group, their season has gone off the boil. As a result of their 3-2 loss against Wolfsburg, United moved into the Europa League and they failed to win their next four league games.
They will face FC Midtjylland in the Round of 32, with the first leg on February 18 and the return leg a week later. By no means will progressing to the last 16 be an easy feat because the Danish club have already knocked one English club out of the competition this season in the form of Southampton.
Chance for a trophy
Whilst every Manchester United fan would have preferred their team to have advanced into the Champions League knockout stages this season, there would’ve been a very slim chance of the Red Devils going on to actually win the entire tournament.
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United haven’t won a single trophy since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and the Europa League represents a realistic opportunity of bringing silverware back to Old Trafford. Furthermore, winning a trophy was one of the primary objectives that Louis van Gaal was tasked with when the club’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward appointed him as manager in May 2014.
Giving youth a chance
This season the likes of Guillermo Varela, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard have all broken into United’s senior squad having made their way through the youth ranks at the club. Should Van Gaal’s men enjoy a successful run in the Europa League, it will allow the Dutchman to blood these promising youngsters even further and give them some invaluable first-team experience on a European stage.
Keeping the squad fresh
If Man United were still in the Champions League they would have to field their strongest team in every match in order to be competitive and this might have affected their Premier League form. As the Europa League is a weaker competition than the Champions League, it should give Van Gaal the chance to rotate his squad and keep his most important players fresh.
This could give fringe players like Maroune Fellaini the chance to impress the manager and it could also allow inconsistent performers like Memphis Depay to regain their confidence. Consequently, star players like David de Gea, Chris Smalling, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial wouldn’t have to play two games every week.
A blessing in disguise?
Whilst the Europa League could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for this campaign, Manchester United don’t want to be in the competition again next season. As mentioned above, if United can field youngsters and rest key players in the Thursday night Europa League ties, it will massively help them to secure a top four finish in the Premier League.
It’s worth noting that United don’t necessarily need to finish in the Premier League’s top four because winning the Europa League also guarantees Champions League football for the following season. However, only once have Manchester United finished outside of the top four places and that was the disastrous 2013-14 campaign under David Moyes.
Over the years Manchester United have prided themselves on challenging for titles and so a top four finish is the bare minimum that their supporters should expect.
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