Europa League 2019-20: Manchester United's best chance at silverware?
Another day, another victory. Manchester United coasted to a Europa League victory on Thursday after playing some of their most fluent football of the season which led to them prevailing over visitors Partizan Belgrade by a scoreline of 3-0.
Yes, we are talking about the same Manchester United that have made a horrendous start to their Premier League campaign, currently lying 10th on the table following one more insipid defeat at Bournemouth in the weekend. It seems a different team is playing in the two competitions, one that has already sealed progression in comfortable fashion in the European tournament while tottering in the League after a series of ineffectual performances.
United, whose manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been in the crosshairs for the club's poor run of results in the League and their toothless style of play, has found redemption in club competitions.
While the Red Devils are in serious danger of missing out on a top-six spot, which would be a catastrophic for a club of their profile and will definitely lead to huge repercussions, their performance in both the League Cup, where they are in the last eight following a morale-boosting away win at high-flying Chelsea and the Europa League, where they are in the knockouts after an unbeaten start to their group engagements, have been considerably better.
Their run-in Cups have been the mitigating factors for Solskjaer's band of boys and have prevented their season from descending into total chaos.
United's contrasting performances in the Cups and League can be exemplified by a certain Marcus Rashford, who has struggled to lead the line in the Premier League but scored two wonderful goals in the two competitions to take his team to victory.
Youngsters such as Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong have been given an extended run in the Europa and youth-first seems to be a set policy for an injury-riddled club as they head into the last 32 of the tournament.
During their glorious past, playing in the Europa League was considered an ignominious return for a club considered one of the top guns of Europe. The United of yore, under Sir Alex Ferguson, belonged to the Champions League where they were serial contenders for the title.
However, it is time for the United faithful to accept that circumstances have changed. The ever-evolving world of football can be protean in the most deadly and unforgiving manner and United, though they have made it to UCL in the post-Fergie era, will probably do well to realise that they have a much more realistic chance of bagging the second-tier European trophy than the former right now in a phase of redevelopment.
This season, looking at the challenge they face in the knockouts, United will truly consider themselves one of the bigger contenders for the trophy. It will definitely not be easy and familiar rivals Arsenal are still in the mix and some tricky trips to different parts of Europe are in the offing, but the serenity that the Red Devils have played within the Europa gives them a great chance of winning a trophy in this difficult season; this, especially considering the fact that both top dogs Liverpool and Manchester City are still alive in the League Cup and will take the FA Cup very seriously as well.
Ole's priority must remain to resurrect their position in the League but he will probably be taking their Europa engagements more seriously now for sure and will look to follow in the footsteps of Jose Mourinho who led the club to their first triumph in the tournament.
However, a failed League run will not be compensated by Europa success and that's something Solskjaer will know, a few more losses in the EPL and he might not even be around to steer the team in Europe.