Sunday 14 February 2016

Top four is gone... we have to focus on the Europa League

Yes, you read that right: Manchester United need to focus on the Europa League as surely now its our only way into next season's Champions League.

It's a mark of how far we have fallen that a distinctly second rate tournament is now our only hope of salvaging something from an indifferent, inconsistent and rapidly unravelling season.

It's looked a very real proposition for a while now but yesterday's defeat at Sunderland- a first Premier League loss at the Stadium of Light- all-but rubber stamped the fact that United are going to finish adrift of the Champions League spots for the second time in three seasons. 

Thursday's first leg in Denmark against Midtylland  in the round of 32 has taken on added importance now after a seventh league defeat of the season at Sunderland left United with a mountain to climb to make it into the top four. 

With the top four all playing each other this weekend yesterday's match at Sunderland was seen as the perfect chance for United to make up some ground, but clearly no-one told Louis van Gaal or the players.

Instead, six points adrift of fourth placed City as it stands, we'll fall even further behind the chasing pack and- whilst still mathematically possible- Van Gaal has told his squad that a top four finish is now very unlikely. 

After goal-filled wins against Derby and Stoke, and an impressive showing at Chelsea, there was hope that United were building strongly to finish the season with a flourish but we reverted to type against Sunderland.

Lacklustre, lethargic and beaten by the better side, we were passive and our slow sideways passing allowed Sunderland to take control from the start- a foothold they never really relinquished as they went on to give their own contrasting ambitions a vital boost.

In  15 matches against clubs in the bottom half, 25 points dropped tells its own story and for United attentions should now turn to the Europa League. 

With a place in the next season's Champions League up for grabs for the winners and a top four place looking a long way off, United should approach Europe's second-tier tournament with the respect and integrity of its prestigious elder brother.

United- and Van Gaal- have been a failure this season and don't deserve a place in the top four and, with sides including Fiorentina, Napoli and Dortmund in the mix, even a stab at the Europa League looks a tricky proposition for this side.

It now seems almost certain that Louis will leave United in the summer- it's now just a case of how low he will leave us. 

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