Manchester United Have Returned to the Europa League Because That Has Become Their Level
Manchester United have been trying and failing to restore the glory days for seven years.
That means seriously competing for silverware in both the Premier League and Champions League, which hasn’t happened since 2013 when Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
United finished second in a one-horse race in 2017/18, but their most recent actual challenge in the Premier League was in 2012/13 when they last won it. In Europe, the club hasn’t been beyond the Champions League quarter-finals since the 2010/11 campaign.
There have been flashes of resurgence under each of the three most recent managers – Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – but it never lasts and always falls short.
After Tuesday night’s Champions League defeat to RB Leipzig, United will once more be playing Europa League football when UEFA competitions resume in February.
It's like thinking you’re ready to sit with the grown-ups, but being pointed back to the kids’ table.
Getting relegated to the Europa League once again feels like more of a punishment than being knocked out of Europe altogether, which could be more easily passed off as a blip. But the reality is now another stark reminder that ‘this is your real level’.
That the club stood to make it to the Champions League knockout rounds for only the fourth time since Ferguson tells its own story. Come the spring, United will have competed more often in the Europa League knockout rounds during that period because 2020/21 will be their fourth time.
Right now, United don’t belong in the latter stages of the Champions League. They aren’t good enough and simply would have made it through if they were.
Failure to advance to the last 16 is not the outcome of a one-off result. United were embarrassed by Istanbul Basaksehir thanks to some truly woeful defending on matchday three, but recovered sufficiently on matchday four to ensure they still only needed a single point from the remaining two games to qualify. Obviously, the team lost them both and failed to get it.
It is no longer a blip. It is just the norm.
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