Sir Alex Ferguson feels Europa League is Manchester United's best bet to qualify for Champions League
What’s the story?
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes their best chance of qualifying for the Champions League is by winning the Europa League title this season. The Red Devils are currently in fifth place – four points behind Liverpool – and have struggled to move up the table since they fell out of the top four in September.
“The season is still alive,” the former Scottish manager said. “They’ve won the League Cup and are in the Europa League and I think they’ve got a great chance there. It’s very important now because if you win it, you’re into the Champions League and at the moment the Premier League is a real fight for the positions behind Chelsea with Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, ourselves.
“It’s not going to be easy to get into the top four. They could do it but I look on the Europa League as a great chance. First of all, the club has never won the Europa League. It adds to the CV so I think we’ve got a good opportunity.”
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Winning the Europa League rather than finish in the top four is also a sentiment Mourinho shares because the end result is the same – Champions League football.
UEFA’s new rules have allowed the Europa League winners to qualify for the Champions League group stages since the 2015/16 season. The only team to have benefited from this rule is Sevilla who won it twice and played in the Europa League.
In 2014/15, they had finished fifth in La Liga but won the Europa League and qualified for the 2015/16 Champions League. They repeated the feat in 2016 and qualified for the 2016/17 Champions League.
The heart of the matter
Ever since consecutive losses to Manchester City and Watford in September 2016, United have not managed to climb back into the top four. They remained in sixth place for 16 game weeks and only just climbed up to fifth spot after Arsenal’s struggles saw United leapfrog the Gunners.
However, they have a fight on their hands to get back into the automatic qualification spots. Jose Mourinho’s side are yet to play Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Premier League are not the only front where United are competing. After having qualified for the Europa League quarter-finals, it has led to a fixture congestion where the Old Trafford side will play a number of games in April.
United take on Anderlecht in the quarter-finals and it will see them play a total of nine games in the Premier League and Europa League. The scheduling of fixtures had also angered Mourinho who claimed United did not have enough rest between fixtures – a fact even Jurgen Klopp agreed on.
Manchester United actually have the chance to finish in the top four and win the Europa League at the same time. Although they are in fifth place, they have two games in hand to reel in Liverpool who are four points ahead.
However, it will come down to which competition Mourinho prioritises. Placing all eggs in the Europa League basket may be a risky move but an injury crisis with seven players out may force Mourinho to focus on one goal.