The Europa League quarterfinal draw is kind to Manchester United with the Red Devils playing the away leg first and the other teams most likely to win the competition drawing each other. The draw, combined with lackluster Premier League results and a mix of suspensions, injuries, and Phil Jones, has necessitated Jose Mourinho’s prioritization of Europe.
Stockholm more likely than top 4
Jose Mourinho joins a long queue of managers of bemoaning the Football Association for refusing to schedule games in the interests of the teams competing in Europe. Following their away leg to Anderlecht, United face a rested and superior Chelsea team on Sunday.
Should United advance to the Europa League semi-finals, as expected, they will play their semi-final games ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham. The strength of their opposition in the Premier League run-in makes top 4 a distant possibility.
Manchester United have only themselves to blame
Until a couple of weeks ago, 2016/2017 would have been remembered as the “season of sixth.” Despite the illusion of an incredible unbeaten record of 19 games United were unable to truly make up ground on their rivals, apart from Arsenal’s shocking and hilarious meltdown.
Manchester United have been shockingly consistent in their inability to claim a top four spot and their league form is marred by far too many draws. Draws with Everton and West Brom can be added to a long list including Hull, Stoke, Everton (again) and West Ham.
Each draw has looked eerily similar with the same dominance in possession and multiple scoring opportunities accentuated with missed chances and defensive errors. The Red Devils have failed to capitalize on their relatively easier fixtures.
The players must rise to the occasion
Over two legs Manchester United have enough quality and depth to beat any team in the Europa League. However, Mourinho must ensure his players are entirely focused during those games, especially at home, where a mistake can cost them a valuable away goal.
Furthermore, in a one game final anything can happen and a moment of individual brilliance from the opposition, or the wrong tactical game plan can utterly ruin United’s season. The time has come for players with exorbitant transfer fees such Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw to prove their worth.
Manchester United are five games away from Champions League football, but certain victory is never assured.
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