Manchester United will compete in the Europa League next season despite signing off their 2021/22 Premier League campaign with a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Sunday afternoon.
Former United winger Wilfried Zaha netted the only goal of the game to condemn United to their fourth defeat in their last six matches, meaning interim boss Ralf Rangnick marked his final game in charge with another defeat. Fortunately, West Ham United also lost on the final day of the campaign, meaning United didn’t slip down to seventh.
That means they will join Arsenal in competing in the Europa League next season. West Ham will compete in the Europa Conference League.
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United entered this season with aspirations of competing for the Premier League title, meaning the prospect of missing out on Champions League football probably never crossed their minds. However, despite bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club and signing Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, United will have to settle for Europa League football next term.
The reality of missing out on Champions League football hit home last month, when Rangnick, following the 3-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, admitted their top-four hopes were over, although the mathematics suggested otherwise. United, even though they required snookers, were still in with an outside chance. But the Europa League is not all bad.
“I mean, it’s bad enough that we aren’t going to play on a Tuesday and Wednesday night in the Champions League,” Rangnick told United’s in-house media ahead of the final day clash with Palace. “But knowing that we are going to play Thursday evening, I think it’s important.
“Even more so for the players, also for our supporters that we qualify for Europa League because in Europa League, Manchester United reach the final the season before. The last season they played in the final against Villarreal and Frankfurt won the Europa League two days ago in style, qualifying for Champions League. This is why I think it’s very important to qualify for the Europa League.”
Considering United have ended the season in such disappointing fashion, they might be feeling fortunate that they will have the Europa League to contest next season. It is considered a much more fierce and well-respected tournament than the Conference League.
As well as that, should United prove successful in the competition, just as they did in 2016/17, they would secure a place back in the Champions League for 2023/24 without having to secure a top-four finish next season, although that will be an expectation. United also reached the final of the competition last season, losing to Villarreal on penalties.
Following the introduction of the Europa Conference League for the first time at the start of this season, the Europa League – a step up from the Conference League – underwent huge changes ahead of its 51st season. The changes that were implemented were as follows:
‘The group stage has been reduced from 48 to 32 teams – eight groups of four,’ UEFA outlined. ‘The eight group winners progress automatically to the round of 16.
‘There will be additional knockout round play-offs prior to the round of 16; these will be between the eight UEFA Europa League group runners-up and the eight third-ranked teams from the UEFA Champions League groups.’
Those changes brought an element of Champions League feeling to the Europa League this season. Rangers, who finished runners-up in the Europa League this season, faced Borussia Dortmund in their Europa League knockout match, following the latter’s exit from the Champions League. That means that United could end up facing one of the Champions League’s elite next season if they don’t win their respective Europa League group.
United won Group L when last in the Europa League from the start of a season, meaning they will be hoping history repeats itself this time around to avoid a potential knockout match. Furthermore, should they finish third in their Europa League group, United would still be in with a chance of winning a European trophy as they’d drop into the Conference League ahead of it resuming after Christmas.
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