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Manchester United didn’t have the best of league campaigns during the 2016/17 season, finishing 6th and ultimately failing to finish in the top 4, which was seen by most as the minimum target for Portuguese boss Jose Mourinho in his first season at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.
However, United managed to win the Europa League. An achievement that now provides automatic qualification for the Champions League, European football’s superior competition.
Europa League today
The Europa League and the Champions League are different in many ways, but with that come many similarities.
After UEFA added the automatic qualification for the Champions League to the Thursday night competition, you could argue that whilst the strength of opposition may not always be so high, the competitiveness is just as strong.
The bigger teams used to almost see playing in the Europa League as a disappointment and use it as an opportunity to give both fringe players and young players the opportunity to showcase their skills in Europe.
Now, with the new rule, this tournament becomes more important for all teams, a back-up option for those not performing in their respective leagues and a chance for underdogs of all kinds to earn their right to play in the big time with the ‘big boys’ as they say.
The Europa League has a lot of depth to it.
Many away trips to Eastern-European based clubs for example are a scenario teams would prefer to dodge in this competition with the already hectic schedule it forces.
United faced trips to both Zorya Luhansk (UKR) and FC Rostov (RUS). They proved to be testing with the pitches not quite up to scratch either, but the reds had the quality to get through those games without losing.
Even the young players at the club (Pogba, Rashford…) have now not only gained success in Europe but have the experience of being successful in the competition with a group stage and vital 2-leg knockout rounds, a huge learning curve.
Winning the trophy gives them a massive boost, a winning mentality and the belief that they can be successful in all competitions against any opponent.
Can United realistically win the Champions League next season?
As a fan, I think a title win is more important at this moment in time, but I’d really hope so.
Even I say that with enormous optimism though, the truth is the Champions League possesses immensely talented players/opponents and to win it you need a bit of luck as with most competitive tournaments but even more so on this big a stage.
I don’t believe Manchester United have the team to do it at this moment in time, come the end of the summer transfer window, we might be willing to say different but I have my doubts we’ll get ‘enough’ improvements for such a big ask in one window.
Jose Mourinho will certainly be keen to bring a 4th Champions League trophy to Old Trafford at some point and write his name in the history books.
I might go as far as saying he may consider his reign a failure should he leave without bringing the prestigious trophy back where it belongs.
Written by Jordan Hackett
Follow Jordan on Twitter @DevilDart180
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