Following the draw for the Europa League group stages on the 26th August United start the group stage games this week to be played from September through to December. United have been drawn in Group A with Feyenoord, Fenerbache SK and FC Zorya Luhansk.
Of these teams United currently have the highest UEFA ranking and so logically could be considered favourites to qualify. There should be a health warning on UEFA rankings however as they are based on performances over a five year period. Clearly a lot can change over five years as United’s recent history since the retirement of Sir Alex demonstrates but for the record United are currently ranked 22nd in Europe. Our group stage rivals are ranked as follows: Fenerbache 40th, Feyenoord 96th and FC Zorya 139th.
We will be looking at our opponents in a little more detail prior to the opening fixture against each side but the big overarching question is just how seriously United will take this competition? In most of Europe it is considered an important tournament, although it is clearly second best to the Champions League. In England it isn’t always taken that seriously because firstly the scheduling of its matches on Thursdays, being that one day closer to the weekend’s domestic fixtures, sees many clubs prioritise the weekend games. This is perhaps inevitable given that the clubs involved in the Europa League are usually pushing to qualify for the Champions League via those weekend fixtures. For United they have the small mercy that all their fixtures following the Europa League are scheduled for Sundays.
The other issue for many is that the third placed teams from the Champions’ League group stage are parachuted into the competition as the knock-out stages commence. These somehow seems to devalue the early stages of the competition. Does it truly have competitive value until those knock-out stages commence?
Nevertheless Jose Mourinho and some of his players are certainly making all the right noises at this stage with the manager and Ander Herrera stating in interviews that they will take the tournament seriously. Jose has also pointed out on several occasions that he has a bigger squad than he is used too and referred to September as an opportunity to give a wider range of players match time; perhaps expect plenty of rotation. The Europa League is a little bit like the League Cup in that it doesn’t really inspire excitement until you reach the semi-final stage, but like the League Cup in the past it can be a taste of glory and a gateway out of a fallow period signposting a period of more prestigious successes. That’s how it worked out for Mourinho when he won the tournament back in 2002 with Porto; let’s hope history repeats itself for Jose; this time at United.
UNITED’S EUROPA LEAGUE GROUP GAMES
Feyenoord vs United, Rotterdam, Holland. Thursday 15th September 2016, 18:0 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 18th September, Watford (away game)
United vs FC Zorya Luhansk, Old Trafford, Mancheater. Thursday 29th September 2016, 20:05 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 2nd October, Stoke City (home game)
United vs Fenerbache SK, Old Trafford, Manchester. Thursday 20th October 2016, 20.05 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 23rd October , Chelsea (away game)
Fenerbache SK vs United, Istanbul, Turkey. Thursday 03rd November 2016, 18:00 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 06th November, Swansea City (away game)
United vs Feyenoord, Old Trafford, Manchester. Thursday 24th November 2016, 20:05 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 27th November, West Ham United (home game)
FC Zorya Luhansk vs United, Zaporizhia, Ukraine. Thursday 08th December 2016, 18:00 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 11th December 2016, Tottenham Hotspur (home game)
UNITED’S GROUP STAGE SQUAD
- David de Gea, Sergio Romero, Sam Johnstone.
- Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Axel Tuanxebe.
- Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin.
- Memphis Depay, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford.