While Manchester United fans are blissfully happy at the moment given their excellent start to the season, the fact that they are in the hat for this Friday’s Europa League draw and not Thursday’s Champions League draw will bring them back to reality.
No United fan wants to be in the Europa League but this season will be the first time the club have ever competed in the group stage of the competition. It will be used by manager Jose Mourinho to give all of his inflated squad a run out, it is also a great opportunity to qualify for the Champions League as Europa League winners.
Thanks to their UEFA club coefficient Manchester United will be seeded and are in pot one for the group stage draw on Friday and therefore will avoid the stronger sides such as Schalke, Zenit St. Petersburg, Athletic Bilbao as well as Frank de Boer’s Inter Milan and Paulo Sousa’s Fiorentina, according to the Manchester Evening News‘ report.
They could, however, draw Celta Vigo, Feyenoord, Mainz or Nice, which would be favourable to Mourinho as drawing these clubs would mean less air miles with Thursday night football leading to Sunday afternoon games in the Premier League with little time for recovery.
Being paired with Spanish, German or French teams would prove more popular than tricky trips to the Ukraine or Russia as winter approaches.
Teams from the same country cannot play each other until the latter stages meaning United will avoid Southampton and West Ham, should the hammers overcome Astra in the second leg of their qualifier on Thursday, with the tie level at 1-1. They may, however, face a short trip to Ireland where League of Ireland champions Dundalk will compete in the Europa League for the first time.
The complete line up for this season’s campaign will be confirmed after the second leg qualifiers are completed on Thursday night and will be joined by those eliminated from the Champions League play-off round.
While the Europa League is often criticised for its poor quality when all teams want to be in the Champions League, this season will prove to be more lucrative for Europe’s second tier club competition with Zlatan Ibrahimovic part of the Manchester United squad for this season’s campaign; not too mention the world’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba, featuring in the competition also.
All eyes will be on both players and Mourinho as he aims to restore Manchester United to the Champions League after missing out on qualification this season.
The Old Trafford side will be among the favourites alongside Villarreal, Roma, Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Zenit St. Petersburg, with the competition growing stronger in the knockout stages once they are joined by the third-placed Champions League group stage teams.
United entered the competition at this stage last season and were knocked out of the the competition by rivals Liverpool after losing 3-1 on aggregate.
The trophy remains the only piece of silverware the club have yet to win, and early indications this season suggest Mourinho has a squad capable of doing just that.
This year’s competition kicks off on September 15th with the final due to be held at the Friends Arena, Solna, Sweden on Wednesday, May 24 2017.
Damien McEvoy Pundit Arena