Following their exits from the Champions League Group Stage this season, you could be forgiven for thinking that the two Manchester giants, United and City, would not have made winning the Europa League a priority, with both locking horns in the Premier League title race. However, the strength of the teams that both sides fielded when winning the first legs of their respective ties last week has resulted in many re-evaluating just what is at stake when it comes to these two rivals winning silverware.
City travelled to Portugal to take on defending Europa League champions, Porto, in the first leg of the round of 32 where, despite going a goal behind in the first half, Mancini’s side came back to comprehensively outplay their Portuguese opponents and win the game 2-1. United meanwhile also faced difficult opposition on the road in the form of Ajax but proved too good for the Dutch side, coming away with a decisive 2-0 win.
In the aftermath, Both Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that they regard the competition as crucial to their club’s ambitions this season and they will be all out to win the competition in Bucharest in May and if the betting is anything to go by, then the two teams could well face each other in the Romanian capital on the 9th May. City are the 7/2 favourites in the Europa League odds to win the competition with United just behind at 4/1 with Valencia of Spain the nearest rival in the betting at 10/1 and only the luck of the draw could stand in the way of these two bitter enemies clashing in a game that could well upstage the Champions League final!
Given that both teams should go through to the Round of 16, City are likely to find themselves up against another Portuguese side Sporting CP (Sporting Lisbon) who are currently in 4th place in Portugal’s Premier League. They earned a 2-2 draw last week away against Legia Warsaw of Poland and should have enough to win the second leg at home. United meanwhile will play the winners of the Locomotive Moscow v Athletic Bilbao tie which after the first leg sits at 2-1 in favour of the Russian team with the second leg to be played in Spain. Bilbao currently sit in 5th place in La Liga while Locomotive sit in 5th in the Russian Premier. Whoever they face providing they progress, both City and United will be favourites to reach the last eight and a step closer to the dream final. This in a competition that has faced much criticism in recent years, often referred to as the poor relation of the Champions League. However, with both City and United seemingly intent on using the Europe League as another stage to continue their battle for bragging rights, Thursday nights may be about to a little more interesting!
Despite their long pedigree in European football, it comes as some surprise that United have never won the tournament formally known as the UEFA Cup. They have of course won three Champions League and also won the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup in the 1990-91 season. City on the other hand have enjoyed nothing like the European success of their fierce rivals but did win the Cup Winners Cup themselves in 1970.
However, the manner in which City have spent money in the past couple of years it is quite clear that the blue half of Manchester is intent on re-writing the history books as they play catch up with United’s illustrious recent history. Success in the Europa League this season would go some way in announcing that City are a force to be reckoned with in European football and if that was courtesy of victory over United in the final or en route to Bucharest, then it would be that bit sweeter for City fans who of course are also in battle with United on the domestic front as the two sit first and second in the Premier League and with plenty of football still to be played, it could well be an interesting few months in Manchester between now and May.
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