Only four teams have won the three main European competitions in any of their formats at least once and Manchester United will join that elite group if they win the Europa League. Juventus, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Chelsea have won the European Cup or Champions League, UEFA Cup or Europa League and the old Cup Winners Cup in their history and United have been champions of Europe and won the Cup Winners Cup in the past. Jose Mourinho would like to make history at Old Trafford.
The Special One would no doubt prefer United to be playing in the Champions League. Only two managers have led the club to be the champions of Europe and they were both knighted which would appeal to Mourinho’s sense of self worth. Sir Matt Busby managed the club when they won the European Cup in 1968 and Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge in the Champions League winning years of 1999 and 2008. United never won the now defunct UEFA Cup and have generally been too good for the Europa League but this could be a great chance for Jose to shine.
It’s ironic that Mourinho had a rant at Antonio Conte about how he celebrated Chelsea’s fourth goal against his side last Sunday. Most football fans in England had not heard of Mourinho before he charged down the touchline at Old Trafford when his Porto side scored a late crucial goal against United in the Champions League. He now has the job he craves most but staff apparently have been underwhelmed and there was a story in the Press that he is detached at training.
Despite a tough schedule and new players settling in United are still only six points off the pace in the Premier League. Away matches at Liverpool and Chelsea are amongst United’s top five difficult assignments of the season and they are now out of the way. The Premier League will take shape over the rest of the year and given a relatively undemanding run United could be in the mix by Christmas. However, the convoluted format of the Europa League won’t help. Between now and the end of the year there are three match days, though United have two home ties.
Since 2009/10 the secondary European competition has been known as the Europa League and Chelsea are the only English side to win the trophy, in the 2012/13 season. Sevilla have won the Europa League in the last three seasons, beating Liverpool in the final last time on the only other occasion an English Premier League side has gone all the way. Liverpool have been champions of Europe five times and won three UEFA Cups but never won the old Cup Winners Cup.
The group stage of the Europa League involves 48 teams, playing in 12 groups on a home and away basis. Since 2015 the winners qualify for the Champions League which has improved the status and prestige of the competition. The knockout stages involve 24 teams who come through the groups plus the eight third placed teams from the eight groups in the Champions League. Betting on the Europa League outright market is complicated by this process but United look worthy favourites at this stage.
For one of the few times under Mourinho United looked a decent side in beating Fenerbahce 4-1 on match day three. Two penalties in quick succession towards the end of the first half settled the match and then Paul Pogba scored a excellent team goal. However, the club looked back to square one with a poor defensive display in the 4-0 drubbing by Chelsea. Winning the Europa League would make it a decent start for Mourinho and form the basis of a challenge for the League and Champions League. The picture will be clearer when the Champions League rejects join the party.
The second favourites are Roma who are currently second in Serie A, two points behind Juventus. Roma finished third last season to qualify for the Europa League and they currently lead Group E with five points from three matches. However, Southampton must be considered as potential finalists to set up the first all-English European final since United beat Chelsea in 2008 in the Champions League when John Terry slipped and missed a crucial penalty which was a shame!
Southampton have some work to do in Group K but are the type of club to prosper in the Europa League but this season it is destined to be won by one of Europe’s superpowers and that could be Manchester United.
Have a fantastic weekend!