When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sat in his office at Old Trafford back in the summer with an open chequebook and permission to splash the cash on players in the transfer window it was on the understanding, he’d set about returning the glory days to Manchester United.
The board, after much deliberation, having suffered a series of false dawns, believed they finally had their hands on the man who would lead the red devils back to the promised land of the Champions League while competing with the best Premier League football has to offer. It was an expensive experiment bringing in a young gaffer but one they simply had to get right.
Things haven’t gone according to plan
Heading towards British springtime and it would be fair to say things haven’t gone to plan at the theatre of dreams. Man Utd suffered a stuttering start to their domestic campaign but were able to fire themselves back into contention. A top four finish and the Champions League qualification that accompanies remains a possibility at this stage but the dream fades with every point dropped.
United suffered defeat in their first game of 2020 when losing 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium, beaten by Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. That set the pace for the month ahead. With Liverpool racing towards the title, Manchester City and Leicester City looking sure second and third, only one of the prize places remain.
The problem for Man Utd fans is, no less than six teams lay claim to fourth (or the fifth place, depending on Man City appeal) – Chelsea, Sheffield United, Tottenham, Everton, Man Utd and Wolves. Arsenal, Burnley, Newcastle and Southampton also hold an outside chance of gate-crashing the party. There are mobile apps that you can place bets on the Reds season result at the touch of a screen.
Success in Europe more likely
Such a competitive race for a top four finish means Man Utd’s best chance could, once again, lie in winning the Europa League. They famously lifted UEFA’s second-string competition in 2017, beating Ajax 2-0 in a final played at the Friends Arena, Sweden under the guidance of now Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho.
It may seem strange, but the current set-up of the Premier League means winning a European Cup could be more achievable for United than trying to crowbar themselves into the best four in the top-flight of English football.
Winning the Europa League gains a club automatic entry into the following season’s Champions League. That means, if Man Utd do win the trophy for the second time in three years, England could have five teams dining at Europe’s head table on a European Championship year, the final of Euro 2020 played at Wembley in July.
Red Devils fancied by bookmakers
Major betting firms believe that’s an achievable feat and rank Man Utd as 7/1 (Ladbrokes) second favourites in the Europa League outright betting, just behind market leaders Sevilla who lead the charge at 13/2 with Sky Bet. Third in line is Inter Milan who also have a 7/1 price tag attached.
The team will face Club Brugge in the first knock out stage in the Round of 32. The first match is an away tie played on Thursday 20 February, shown live on BT Sport from 17:55.
The visitors are match betting favourites to get off to a winning start and would dearly love to put the tie to bed at their earliest opportunity. Betfair trade 7/5 on Man Utd securing a first leg win against the 19/10 for Club Brugge and 23/10 the draw. The English club to qualify is 1/3.