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The Europa League could be what exactly Manchester United need next season



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It would take extraordinary events for Manchester United to qualify for the UEFA Champions League now, with how far behind the Red Devils have fallen.

Four games ago, the Champions League looked like a very realistic possibility. But after four winless fixtures against Brentford, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Bournemouth, with seven points being dropped late in games, United have fallen to seventh in the league and are now too far behind their competition to catch up.

Champions League football has always been a priority under Glazer ownership, more than anything, because of the financial benefits it brings. With sustained poor performance over the last decade starting to affect the club’s finances more, the importance of simply making it into the competition has risen, sometimes at the cost of sustained performance and success over time.

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With INEOS now having sporting control at Old Trafford, it is expected that there will be a shift in approach – giving greater attention to sustainability even if it requires some hardship to begin with.

Considering this, a season in Europe’s second-tier competition—the UEFA Europa League—could be what Manchester United needs for its future.

Trying to develop as a Champions League club isn’t easy. Nowhere in club football do the lights shine brighter, and nowhere in club football is the demand to win higher. It’s difficult to learn to walk in a sprinting contest.

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The Europa League, especially since the creation of the third-tier Europa Conference League, is not uncompetitive, but the level of teams in earlier stages of the competition is not always as high, which allows a manager more chances to experiment with their squad.

Again, there is competitive demand in the Premier League, and in many games, it can be hard to get some real squad testing done as you find your way. The Europa League’s early rounds make this easier, and if you make it to the later rounds, it offers an alternate path to Champions League qualification.

In recent years when United have been in the Europa League, it has had its benefits for the team and its development without the clear direction being given by INEOS. With that footballing vision now being set going into next season, the Europa League is possibly the best place to lay the foundations for that vision.

If the vision is to be successful, then changing the club’s culture is the most important thing that has to be done, and often, this is done by turning to the academy. Manchester United’s academy is currently in its strongest place, perhaps since the Class of ’92 came through, with the U18 side winning the U18 Premier League North earlier this week.

Early-stage Europa League games present opportunities to give these talented young players a taste of the men’s game, and whilst it will show some not to be ready, others may emerge as genuine first-team candidates.

This strengthens the squad and creates a better feel and culture in and around it. Players such as Shea Lacey, rated very highly inside Carrington, could benefit from this.

For fringe players or new players who are yet to settle, it gives them game minutes to familiarise themselves with the footballing vision and build some rhythm. For the established starters who do play, the Thursday-Sunday schedule and some of the distances to be travelled are very difficult, but difficulty enforces growth, and that is what Manchester United needs.

Everyone would prefer to be in the Champions League if ready, everything about it is just better. But right now United are not ready to compete properly at that level, and as they develop under the new INEOS regime, which aims for sustainability, a season in the Europa League might just be better for the club’s long-term future.