Is Top Four or Europa the better UCL route for Man Utd?
Manchester United has two routes to the UEFA Champions League: Premier League Top Four and Europa League.
Doing both is not unreasonable, but suppose for a moment Jose Mourinho has to prioritize one over the other.
United is on the edge of fourth place and on a 22-match unbeaten Premier League run, momentum seems to favor the Red Devils in a Top Four push. The club is also a win or scoreless draw away from the Europa semis, essentially 360 minutes from a title which would earn a place in the UCL.
Should United advance Thursday, it would meet one of six teams in the UEL semis: Genk, Schalke, Besiktas, Celta Vigo, Ajax or Lyon (The last three hold first leg edges). And should they move on, this would be their schedule en route to the UEL final in Solna.
There’s concern in the center of their back line thanks to long-term injuries to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, but United has plenty of depth in attack save for Juan Mata’s absence. Manager Jose Mourinho has experience massaging a squad this deep into a congested season.
Looking at the schedule, there’s an argument to be made for focusing on the UEL. The Red Devils have a tough fixture list in the PL, and match up well with every UEL team except perhaps Schalke. Given the resting of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Sunday against Chelsea, perhaps their eye is on the title.
As far as the Premier League, the Red Devils have two matches-in-hand to make up a six-point gap on Liverpool -- which plays almost no one the rest of the way -- and one match on Man City plus the Derby in a bid to make up four points. But the Red Devils would have to make their run amongst those serious combatants, with Spurs and Arsenal also on the docket.
Thursday - vs. Anderlecht (1-1 after one leg)
April 23 - at Burnley
April 27 - at Manchester City
April 30 - vs. Swansea City
May 4 - UEL semi
May 7 - at Arsenal
May 11 - UEL semi
May 14 - at Tottenham Hotspur
May 17 - at Southampton
May 21 - vs. Crystal Palace
May 24 - UEL final in Sweden