UEFA’s Champions League changes could salvage United’s faltering season

The new Champions League format has divided fans, but the qualification rules mean Manchester United still have a real chance of playing in Europe’s elite competition next season.

UEFA’s announcement that new computer software will be used to complete part of next season’s Champions League draw has renewed discussion about the competition’s impending format changes.

Many fans have lamented the switch to what UEFA calls a ‘Swiss style’ group stage. The changes will drastically increase the number of teams in the opening phase and mean each plays an additional two group games.

Despite the widespread criticism, UEFA’s changes could actually benefit Manchester United this season. If English teams continue to progress in this year’s European competitions, it’s likely the team that finishes 5th in the Premier League this season will qualify for the Champions League.

Bookmakers have United as outsiders to finish in the Top 4, an outcome that would usually see them miss out on Champions League qualification. However, a 5th place finish is still a realistic outcome, and that could be enough to book them a place among Europe’s elite next year.

Aston Villa and Spurs are the two clubs currently fighting it out for fourth, and United’s inconsistent performances make it highly unlikely they could overtake both. Catching one of the two, however, is a much more realistic target. 

United’s season-long struggles have seen the pressure on manager Erik ten Hag fluctuate, but Champions League qualification would go a long way to securing the fanbase’s support going into next season. The financial benefits of qualification alone would significantly improve the outlook for next season. 

The press has suggested incoming owners, INEOS, have sounded out potential replacements for the current manager. There’s been no official comment from the club, but this speculation seems to rumble on. Securing Champions League football could be the push the new owners need to fully back Erik ten Hag.

These changes could put United fans in the awkward position of cheering on their biggest rivals. Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal are still in their respective European competitions, and the further they go, the more realistic it is that United could qualify for next year’s Champions League.

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