Do Manchester United Really Deserve Favorite Status in Europa League?

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Manchester United’s inconsistent form in the Premier League was highlighted once again in their 2-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on New Year’s Day.

The Gunners had only won one of their last 11 matches heading into the contest against Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s men. However, goals from Nicolas Pepe and Sokratis Papastathopoulos guided Arsenal to the three points, securing their first win under the tenure of Mikel Arteta.

United missed the opportunity to close the gap on Chelsea for fourth place in the Premier League and their inconsistency is damaging their hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League via the domestic route. As a result, Solskjaer and his team will have to pin their hopes on earning a spot in Europe’s elite competition next season on winning the Europa League.

The Red Devils have been solid in the tournament this term, easing their way through to the round of 32 by topping their group, dropping only one game in the process – on the road against Astana.

They have been drawn against Club Brugge in the knockout round, although the Belgian outfit produced spirited performances in their Champions League matches against Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain. Still United should have enough to see off their threat, and move on to the next phase.

The bookmakers have confidence in Solskjaer’s side even though they have been hit and miss this term, backing them as favorites in the UEFA Europa League 2019/20 betting odds to win the competition at a price of 11/2. On paper, United have a strong side, although Inter Milan should be worth consideration at 7/1 given that they are currently topping Serie A ahead of Juventus at the time of this writing. Arsenal and Wolves are also in the running from the Premier League, while Sevilla and Ajax also have more than enough quality to triumph.

United’s success will hinge on the form of Marcus Rashford. When the 22-year-old has scored and played well for the Red Devils they’ve had positive outcomes from their matches. Anthony Martial has started to find his form after injury disrupted the start of the campaign for the Frenchman. There is enough firepower between the two players to guide Solskjaer’s men to the crown on their day, although they will need support from elsewhere. Mason Greenwood’s brace against AZ proved that he has the potential despite still being very raw in the final third.

The problems for United could come elsewhere on the pitch. Their midfield has been pedestrian for the majority of the season outside of Scott McTominay, and even the Scot has his limitations. Paul Pogba’s injury problems are making life extremely difficult for Solskjaer, and the Frenchman has hardly been a star on the pitch when he has played under the Norwegian.

The backline looks to be settled apart from the left-back position that has been swinging towards Brandon Williams ahead of Luke Shaw. The club spent big to secure the signing of Harry Maguire in the summer, but he has not delivered the stout performances expected of an £80m defender. The Red Devils have been suspect in their defensive duties at times – none more so than their 2-0 defeat at the Emirates. David de Gea has had his poor moments this term, with his standout error against Watford epitomizing the club’s problems.

There’s not a lot that United can rely on across the pitch, therefore, their status as favorites for the Europa League is surprising. It could all come together down the stretch to guide the Red Devils into the Champions League with their second Europa League win in three years, but it will take a series of quality performances that might be beyond this squad.

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