This may sound bizarre, but believe me, I do have a point. If Manchester United, and David Moyes, want to get back to challenging for the title next season, they need to remain pretty average for the rest of the season. The only way they are going to qualify for the Champions League is by winning it, they are so far off 4th place, and even with Arsenal faltering, there seems little chance of them getting there, especially with the likes of Everton and Spurs playing well enough to stay just outside that coveted spot.
So what’s left for United? A top 6 finish could get them in the Europa league, a competition they’ve only played in once, and that was after failing in the group stage of the Champions League. Would they really want that? There’s an argument that Europe is Europe and they should strive to play in the bridesmaid of European club football, but the reality is they would be better served by missing out completely.
The Europa league starts when preseason should start, meaning the break between seasons is hardly there, players don’t get a full preseason, new players get less time to settle in, and players who feature at the World Cup get almost no break. The plus point of competitive matches early on meaning a more energetic and battle ready start to the domestic season is soon outweighed by tired legs, injuries and too much rotation, as the Europa League qualifying, and then league games start to take it’s toll. Add to that Thursday matches, with little recovery time before the weekend, and the old European hangover becomes a more likely story than United running away with the league.
Perhaps the best case for United missing out on the Europa League comes from their most bitter rivals – Liverpool. Liverpool are enjoying perhaps their best league season in over 24 years, and it’s precisely because of a lack of European action. Past Liverpool sides have not been able to juggle the strains of a league tilt, cup run and European matches with squad boasting less numbers and quality than the usual big four. This season however, unbridled by mid week action, they have kept their first 11 fit, fresh, and better prepared than most of their rivals. They’ve enjoyed less injury problems than United and Arsenal, and will probably just miss out on the league title because of Chelsea and CIty’s bette, and bigger, all round squads. Take nothing away from them though, they have played great attacking football, that’s proved effective as well as pleasing, and wherever they finish this season will be a big step forward from their recent past.
All that meaning that United need to win and play well in their last 9 games, as players play for their futures, as the club plays for pride, and to bring a certain amount of momentum into their start next season, but they also need to hope that those above them carry on winning, ensuring that Europe is just out of their reach. Then maybe Moyes will have a better chance at lifting United to the expected heights and challenges next season.