Manchester United could join an elite group of clubs who have won three different European competitions while Arsenal can finally win the Champions League, the trophy that Arsene Wenger craves most. Leicester have qualified for the last 16 of the continent’s most prestigious competition but they don’t look good enough to progress further. Manchester City have in Pep Guardiola a coach proven in the Champions League and he can take his new team to the last four at least this season.
United won the Cup Winners Cup in the 1990-91 season and have been Champions of Europe three times. However, they have never won the Europa League or the old UEFA Cup which was the fore runner to the competition. The winners of the Europa League qualify for the Champions League and that could be United’s best route into the premier competition as a top four place in the league looks beyond them.
The minimum requirement for any manager of United in the post-Alex Ferguson era is playing in the Champions League. That objective was too much for David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal and they were both sacked so Jose Mourinho is fully aware of expectations in his first season in charge. The Europa League is not too strong this season with the winners in the last three years, Sevilla, still in the Champions League and not too many strong teams joining in from that competition for the last 32 round.
Juventus, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Ajax are the only teams to have won the three main European club competitions. Only Bayern Munich have won the Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Cup and the European Cup and Champions League and no side has won the Cup Winners’ Cup and both versions of the other competitions. United have been champions of Europe in both formats so if winning the Europa League would become the first English club to win four in the different guises. Liverpool and Chelsea have each won three different European competitions.
Mourinho knows the value of winning honours and he is one manager who does not belittle the League Cup. He feels lifting a trophy breeds confidence and can lead to greater things. With the Premier League not a realistic target he could win two Cups which would set up United for a run on the Premier League and the Champions League and satisfy the fans and club hierarchy. That process can begin with United winning the Europa League this season and thus becoming only the fifth team to have won all three honours in European football.
Arsenal always make the last 16 of the Champions league and are then eliminated. There is a subtle difference this season in that they progressed as group winners which means a potentially weaker team to play in the first knockout round. However, by the law of Mister Sod Real Madrid and Bayern Munich finished second in their groups so could play Arsenal in the last 16. That does mean an easier route form the quarter-finals onwards and this could just be the year when everything falls into place and Arsenal win the Champions League for the first time.
Teams from the same league cannot meet in the first knockout round so Arsenal will avoid Manchester City and cannot draw Leicester because the Premier League champions also won their group. Leicester could make history by winning the Champions League and being relegated in the same season. However, the second leg of that double is much more likely than the first and Leicester could also draw Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the next round.
Over the last seven seasons Pep Guardiola has led the clubs he manages to the last four of the Champions League at least. However, those clubs have been Barcelona and Bayern Munich and they expect to be winning the trophy and contesting finals. City have a potentially easier last 16 tie and look good things to make the semi-finals. Winning the Champions League could still happen and if United win the Europa League one city would claim both European cup competitions in the same season and that has never happened before.