Manchester United’s prospects of finishing in the top four look increasingly bleeding. After the Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid, interim boss Ralf Rangnick said United needed to go on a run in the Premier League.
Instead of coming out and setting the tone for a positive few weeks with a big win, United slumbered to a draw at home to Leicester and were fortunate not to lose.
A top four finish now looks like a pipedream. Statistical website FiveThirtyEight quote United having just a three per cent chance to secure a Champions League qualifying spot.
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Thumbs down to Europa League
The rest of the season now looks like a write-off. United might as well bring some of the youngsters through, and sideline players who have no interest in being at the club next season.
While there is pride to play for, the actual reward of finishing fifth, sixth, or seventh, is barely worth having.
Fifth or sixth place qualifies United for a Europa League place. FiveThirtyEight say sixth is United’s most likely finishing position.
The Europa League is still a trophy, but it is one which United have seen enough of in recent seasons. After coming so close to winning it last season, its one most fans could live without.
The trophy takes 15 games to win, and it is a huge weight on the team’s progress in the Premier League. When Jose Mourinho won it in 2017, it came at the price of Premier League performance, with the team finishing sixth.
Playing twice a week, including away ties after away European games, are a real challenge. Teams in recent seasons have shown they can benefit from being out of Europe altogether.
Chelsea actually won the title under Antonio Conte the season after they finished 10th and missed out on Europe. A more condensed campaign allowed them extra rest between league games and added focus.
This extra time on the training ground would be absolutely crucial for United’s new manager, whether that be Erik ten Hag or Mauricio Pochettino. Playing twice a week, there is not as much time to work on the fundamentals.
Arsenal’s league improvement this season has come in a year when they have no European football to balance. That is not a coincidence.
Forget the Conference League
Photo by Pierre Albouy – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images
Finishing seventh is the worst case scenario for United. This would plunge the Red Devils into the unpopular, unfashionable and much derided Europa Conference League.
United would be on a hiding to nothing in this tournament. Win it, and the team would still be laughed at. Fail to win it would be even worse.
A seventh placed finish is quite possible too, with United among three teams along with Tottenham and West Ham who are battling Arsenal for the top four.
Wolves hold the key to United finishing eighth
Fourth place is ideal – but as stated, unlikely. So after that, United would actually be better off finishing in eighth and missing out on European football altogether next season.
This isn’t a case where United fans should be wanting the team to lose. Let’s face it, they probably will lose plenty between now and the end of the season anyway.
But positive results for Wolves should raise a smile. Wolves are the only club in with a chance of beating United to seventh and knocking the Red Devils down to eighth.
Bruno Lage’s side are just two points behind United right now, and while they have played one game more, it’s a close gap which they can make up.
A spot in the Europa Conference League next season will surely mean a lot more to Wolves than it would be United.
Between now and the end of the season, if Wolves are winning, then it is good news for United. Eighth place would neatly sum up this total mess of a campaign, and actually leave us better off for next year.
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