Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund went toe-to-toe on Tuesday as Liverpool were torn apart in Madrid, while on Wednesday, Bayern Munich and PSG played out a modern thriller. After the thrills and spills the Champions League provided over the past two nights, the Europa League went down like that third McDonald’s burger. It was a struggle, but you know, you’ve paid for that BT Sport subscription so might as well try and force it down yourself.
Manchester United secured an 2-0 away win in the Europa League at Granada as Marcus Rashford scored the opening goal of the game, but even the camera missed that one and we were made to watch 50+ replays as the directors desperately attempted to make up for their error. Bruno Fernandes added a second from the penalty spot late on to all but seal United’s place in the final four. Meanwhile Arsenal could only manage a 1-1 draw with Slavia Prague, as the only other English side left in this competition looked to book their place in the semi-finals.
United might well go on to win this competition this year, and in turn secure Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first piece of silverware as manager of the Red Devils, but there must have been some green eyes of envy flashing jealous glances at the blue side of Manchester and their Champions League endeavours earlier in the week. As important as they may claim the Europa League to be this season, it would be a telling success if they never had to compete in it again.
Although it is providing United with a chance to win a trophy, it falls somewhere between the League Cup and the FA Cup in terms of importance. Simply put, Manchester United should never be competing in Europe’s second tier competition. Instead of a trophy opportunity, every game serves a stark reminder of what they are missing.
Granada, with all due respect to the club who have gone further than ever before in European competition this year, are not the Spanish side that United should be playing in Europe. They currently lie 11th in La Liga, while in 1999, they were stranded in the fourth tier of Spanish football. Back then, United were treble winners while just a decade ago Sir Alex Ferguson’s United played Spanish giants Barcelona in the Champions League final. The standards Fergie set meant that United emerged as one of the greatest clubs in the world, fighting on all fronts and certainly competing with Europe’s elite.
That is the level where this club belongs.
To give credit to this current Manchester United side, they have taken the Europa League incredibly seriously, both this season and when they won it in 2017. It just feels a little hollow to be talking about United reaching the semi-finals of Europe’s ancillary competition, especially as their strong league performance means that they would be playing in the Champions League next term either way.
Things are different for Arsenal, who do not boast the history, European success or guaranteed Champions League football next season. They need to win this competition. United can take it or leave it. The worry, although clear progress is being made under Solskjaer, is that standards will slip around Old Trafford and it will become the norm to be competing in the latter stages of the Europa League.
The wins can be celebrated. The trophy will be welcomed. But for Manchester United, the competition should never be cherished.