It has been a season to really expect the unexpected when it comes to supporting Manchester United. David Moyes has been shackled by the aura of his predecessor, and his start to life as manager for many has been close to shambolic.
It is unsurprising then that so few gave United a chance of overturning the two goal deficit that faced them last night. Even devout ‘Red’ Gary Neville was playing down their chances in the wake of another Premier League capitulation at the hands of Liverpool. But like much of the season so far you never know what you are going to get from United, and last nights showing against Olympiakos contained some of verve and swagger that has been all too regularly missing this season.
Progression in the Champions League is huge for a club of United’s stature, but long-term is it really going to bring with it the boost that is required?
Many have already highlighted last night’s victory as a potential catalyst for a late revival under Moyes this season. But for those not still caught up in the fervour of last nights result should realise that the potential for an extended run in the competition could be just as detrimental to United.
Fans that genuinely think that United can win the Champions League and guarantee their qualification for next year are delusional. United enter the last 8 as rank outsiders and the team that most would be looking to draw. Playing the likes of Bayern Munich or Real Madrid over two legs is hardly the kind of tie to rekindle the confidence at Old Trafford that has been found lacking in recent months.
United have guaranteed themselves two more nights in the European spotlight, but for many they have also opened themselves up to a couple more evenings of misery and embarrassment.
This is at a time where United’s nearest competitors domestically are able to shift their sole focus to the Premier League. Victory for United placed Everton straight into the driving seat for a Europa place, and left the ‘Reds’ even more nailed on now for the ignominy of finishing 7th and out of Europe. With the games in hand that they have you would easily make Everton favourites to finish 5th, with Tottenham and United slugging it out for that final Europa League spot. The North Londoners face Europa exit this evening, and after that can focus entirely on their league run-in.
Some United fans may argue well so what? For a club of United’s stature why would we want to be playing in the Europa League anyway?
In some senses they are right to feel this way. The gulf between Europa and Champions League is huge both financially and in terms of footballing prestige. The difference between finishing 7th and 6th wont really have too much of a financial impact on United, the damage in that regard will have been done by dropping out of the top four.
The real issue here is playing in Europe all together, and for a club with the reputation of Manchester United I believe missing out on the Europa League would be a near disaster. It may be a much-maligned competition but I still think United fans are appreciative of the importance of European football.
By progressing in the Champions League some might argue they have built up the momentum necessary to snatch that 6th place now. For me a couple of battering’s against top European opposition is hardly the recipe for domestic success, and given United’s form of late I wouldn’t say that outcome is particularly unlikely.
Victory last night firmly put United 3rd in the running for the continental places this season; the trade-off being a couple more nights of Champions League football left to savour.
Was it really worth it United fans?