Football

Europa League or Bust for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United

Jose Mourinho looks on

Thursday night’s Europa League clash against Celta Vigo is a season-defining one for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United.

The 2-0 defeat to Arsenal earned Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United some scathing criticism owing to the negative tactics used on the day. It was a game where neither side was spectacular before the game finally opened up when Granit Xhaka’s shot took a massive deflection off Ander Herrera to loop over David De Gea into the goal and it was all Gunners from there on as they prevailed at the end. But the defeat made one thing clear — Manchester United’s best route to the Champions League now is by winning the Europa League. Had it been the Red Devils who had won the match, it could have spelt doom for Arsenal’s top four hopes and would have brought them within two points of Liverpool, who look to be running out of steam themselves at the moment.

However, it’s now Arsenal who still have a glimmer of hope to claim an annual top four finish as they are now just two points adrift of the Mancunians and have a game in hand as well. And if they do win at Southampton on Wednesday, United will drop down to 6th — the position which they have occupied for the majority of their league campaign. Technically, a top four finish isn’t yet out of sight for United with them still four points away from the fourth spot and three league matches left to play before the season ends. But with another tough London trip — this time a final journey to White Hart Lane awaiting on the horizon this Sunday, it may be a case of too little too late now. And this quote by Mourinho following the defeat to Arsenal summed up his priorities: “We have to chase the Champions League by trying to win the Europa League. I don’t think we have any chance of finishing top four.”

The Portuguese has made it clear he is going to put all his eggs in one basket for claiming a Champions League spot now. His team selection last Sunday against Arsenal in itself gave the onlookers a clear impression of how important finishing as high as possible in the Premier League holds to him as it stands. It’s nothing short of a risk to completely prioritise Europa League considering the unpredictable nature of the knockouts. Don’t forget this is the same Celta Vigo who less than three months ago, after losing the first-leg at home to a rampant Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0, turned around the tie by winning the second-leg 2-0 in extra time and progressed to the Round of 16.

Though the Red Devils are no Shakhtar themselves but in case the Galician side manages to produce a repeat of it much to United’s dismay, a top four finish could provide an insurance to this calamity. Mourinho often cites the ‘fatigue’ factor behind his changed priorities but the current dilemma is something both him, as well as the club, have come crossroads with previously. The Portuguese could be given a let off for the casualties his side has suffered in the past two months but it is his own men’s inability to grasp their chances which has broug̱ht them into this place foremost.

 

Season defining clash for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United

 

However, Mourinho’s stance does stand vindicated as to why he prefers Europa League glory over a top 4 finish in the league. A narrow first-leg win at the Balaidos meant the Red Devils are now just a game away from booking their tickets for the showpiece match in Stockholm and another away from winning the tournament. With Real Madrid and Juventus set to contest the Champions League final, United will be granted a direct entry into the group stages next season, something they won’t get by finishing fourth in the league. United’s impeccable European home record in last four years coupled with Celta’s five-match winless run coming into the return leg at Old Trafford allay those fears of a spectacular comeback by the visitors to some degree.

When it comes down to finding enough motivation to win this battle, United have a handful of those for that matter. The biggest of them being having never won the competition before and if they do so come May 24, the north-west giants will become only the fifth club to have the possession of UEFA Champions League/European Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Europa League. In short, the whole success of Manchester United’s first season under Jose Mourinho depends on lifting this elusive trophy. EFL Cup victory would count for nothing unless they win in Stockholm. It’s ‘Europa League or bust’ for the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ and his army. And just like what Thierry Henry said not too long ago: “You find yourself in the situation where he’s going to have the last laugh”.

 

 

The Red Devils have history doing their backing too as whenever they have got the better of a Spanish opponent in the semi-finals of a European competition, they have always gone on to win it. When it comes down to finding enough motivation to win this battle, United have a handful of those for that matter. The biggest of them being having never won the competition before and if they do so come May 24, the north-west giants will become only the fifth club to have the possession of UEFA Champions League/European Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Europa League. In short, the whole success of Manchester United’s first season under Jose Mourinho depends on lifting this elusive trophy. EFL Cup victory would count for nothing unless they win in Stockholm. It’s ‘Europa League or bust’ for the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ and his army. And just like what Thierry Henry said not too long ago: “You find yourself in the situation where he’s going to have the last laugh”

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