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Manchester United will learn their Europa League fate when the draw is made for the group stages of this season’s tournament on Friday. The Red Devils missed out on Champions League qualification by slumping to a sixth-placed finish in the Premier League at the end of the previous campaign, with Old Trafford instead set to play host to Europe’s second-tier club competition over the coming months.
United will be hoping to steer clear of a tricky draw as they look to repeat their Europa League heroics from back in 2017, when Jose Mourinho led the club to their most recent continental triumph. However, their status as a Pot One team will see Erik ten Hag’s side avoid most of the competition’s biggest hitters when the final groups are decided at UEFA’s headquarters in Switzerland.
One side that United will definitely not face in the group stages will be Arsenal, who have also been placed in Pot One and cannot be paired with the Red Devils due to UEFA rules on clubs from the same national association playing the same group. Based on the teams that have already been confirmed to participate in this season’s Europa League, with further qualifying matches set to be played on Thursday evening, United’s best-case scenario would be a group consisting of themselves alongside FC Midtjylland, Nantes and tournament first-timers Union Saint-Gilloise.
There are still plenty of difficult sides left for United to be drawn against, though, in spite of their standing as one of the competition’s highest-seeded teams. AS Monaco and Real Sociedad are currently the two best-ranked teams in Pot Two ahead of the final round of qualifiers on Thursday evening, while Bundesliga duo SC Freiburg and Union Berlin find themselves in Pot Three and could both provide United with a stern test if they are joined by the Red Devils in the same group.
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It remains to be seen whether United will be able to mount a Europa League title challenge over the course of this season’s tournament, with the first group stage matches set to be played on September 8. The final is scheduled to be held at the Puskas Arena in Budapest, with the nation of Hungary poised to host a major European final for the very first time.
Ten Hag’s overwhelming priority in his first season in charge of United will be to ensure an immediate return to the Champions League for next season, which can be done either by winning the Europa League or securing a top-four finish in the Premier League over the coming months. Jamie Carragher has already insisted that a club of United’s stature does not belong in any second-tier competitions but the former Liverpool defender is adamant that it will be hugely difficult for Ten Hag to get the club back to where they should be in his debut campaign at the helm.
“They’re one of the biggest clubs in the world, never mind this country, so to not be in the Champions League just doesn’t feel right, not when United are in the Europa League,” Carragher told Sky Sports last month.
“So I think that’s the first thing and I think once United do that, then it’ll be looking at the title in the next couple of years. But it won’t be easy to get back in the top four this season, not just for United but for any team who are normally in the top four.”
Man Utd’s dream group
Manchester United, FC Midtjylland, Nantes, Union Saint-Gilloise
Man Utd’s nightmare group
Manchester United, AS Monaco, SC Freiburg, TBA
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