Man United must treat the Europa League with respect
Manchester United must now focus on winning the Europa League even if a top-four finish in the Premier League is looking closer than ever
If there was one conclusion to be drawn from the disappointing goalless draw between Manchester United and Manchester City on Thursday, it was that winning the Europa League must now become Jose Mourinho’s priority.
True, the result at The Etihad was generally considered to be a positive one for Manchester United. After all, it left Mourinho’s men with their hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premier League this season in their hands.
Win all of their remaining games in the Premier League and a top-four finish will be the reward – with a possible bonus of edging Liverpool out of the Champions League spots.
However, one glance at Manchester United’s remaining fixtures underlines just how important the Europa League is if the Red Devils want to guarantee their spot in next season’s Champions League.
The Red Devils still have to play Arsenal, Tottenham and Southampton away from Old Trafford before the season is out, leaving a top-four finish in the Premier League looking anything but secure.
Yes, Manchester United have been in consistent form in the Premier League in recent months. The Red Devils are finally starting to show glimpses of the building blocks needed for a title challenge in the seasons to come.
Their 2-0 win over Chelsea at Old Trafford earlier this month was probably their best performance since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, but the fact still remains that Mourinho’s men only need three wins to lift the Europa League trophy next month and book their spot in next season’s Champions League.
So Mourinho is likely to prioritise Manchester United’s forthcoming semi-final showdown with Spanish side Celta Vigo as he bids to reach his primary target of Champions League qualification.
The Portuguese coach has already hinted at that with some recent comments about rotating his squad.
“Fourth position is not a trophy – and in this club we want trophies,” Mourinho said at a news conference earlier this month.
Celta are going to be anything but a walkover, however. The Spanish side are known for their hard-working style of play and will be expected to man-mark Manchester United’s danger-men over the two legs.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who seems to have accepted his role as Manchester United’s Europa League specialist, should expect to be tracked all over the pitch, much like the way Ander Herrera shadowed Eden Hazard at Old Trafford earlier in the month,
Speaking earlier this month, Spanish football expert Guillem Balague highlighted the quality of opposition that awaits the Red Devils in the last four.
“A good friend asked me if Celta have got any chance. What? Really? I hope everybody thinks that way and leave Celta as underdogs. They are more than capable to going to the final,” Balague said.
Should Manchester United progress, a final showdown with either Ajax or Lyon would await in Stockholm next month.
The Red Devils should, and will, keep fighting for a top-four finish – but the Europa League is now more important for Manchester United. And you get the feeling Mourinho knows that.