Jose Mourinho was recently quoted in an interview that he would prefer to win the Europa League this season – doubling the silverware in his first season at Old Trafford – rather than fight until the end for a Champions League spot.
If United are successful in their bid to capture Europe’s second most prestigious trophy, a Champions League place will be sealed.
But is it an easier way of playing Champions League football, than actually finishing in the top four (for English top flight)?
For Manchester United, finishing top four is still achievable as they are six points off fourth-placed Liverpool with two games in hand. They still have eight more to play.
Yet having made it to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, they seem to have found an easy way out of playing Champions League football next season.
Two things to be specifically noted in this very instance are the level of competition offered in the English Premier League and Europa League respectively and the prize at the end of the line.
Manchester United are in a unique position to do both or fail in both the competitions. Yet, there is no hiding the fact that this season in the Premier League, for whatever reason, even after 30 games, five teams are very much in contention for the last two Champions League qualification spots.
From third-placed Liverpool to seventh-placed Arsenal, who have played two games fewer, all are neck-and-neck.
Even though their Europa League run has not been the most impressive in terms of flair and quality, United have ground out results. Though they might be somewhat unhappy with a one-all draw against Anderlecht.
Europa League is obviously an easy way out for an established, quality side like Manchester United, who had an unimpressive, grinding season in the league. Had it been any other lesser-quality team, perhaps winning the Europa League would have been a matter of odds.
More importantly, the standard of football and the competitive levels of it, displayed in the Premier League, is another reason, for somebody like Jose Mourinho, to vie for Europa League glory.
Another reason behind choosing this easy way out is the fact that knockout-stages of European football is two-legged, which offers sufficient leeway and change of fortunes for any team, which has made through that stage.
While the fate of knock-out matches are unpredictable, a two-legged tie always helps the stronger side.
Teams which play in the Premier League or even in La Liga, now see this as an alternative way of securing Champions League football. Much of this again stems from the increase in quality competition in their domestic leagues. Sevilla, for instance won three straight Europa League titles, until last year, and by the virtue of it, always secured Champions League football for the following season.
Considering the prize at the end of winning the Europa League is an European silverware, as opposed to no silverware for finishing fourth in a league, the former is now being devised as an easy way out for securing Champions League football.