The UEFA Europa League is most certainly not where Manchester United would like to be at the moment. Built on domestic and European success, the reds are expected to be competing in club football’s top competition on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. However, after a fifth place finish in the 2015/16 season domestic season, much was spoken of the dreaded effect the Europa League could have. A Thursday night fixture (possibly on the other side of the continent) can negatively impact the result in the Premier League the following weekend as players feel tiredness and fatigue. So, what do the results so far this season suggest about this subject? Is there any truth in the substance or is it all a myth?
United began their Europa League campaign in the middle of September when they faced a trip to Feyenoord of Holland, following Jose Mourinho’s first official defeat as United boss in a 2-1 loss to Manchester City at Old Trafford. Mourinho claimed that he was ‘desperate’ for September, per the Mirror, in order to give opportunities to players lacking game time such as the likes of Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick and Memphis Depay. So, when the time commenced, Mourinho rotated his side to start these players but used Memphis off the bench whereas Carrick was an unused substitute. Despite the fresh legs, the reds produced a lacklustre display to fall to a 1-0 defeat as part of a miserable run of games. The following Sunday saw United travel to Watford, hoping to avoid three losses in a row in all competitions. Unfortunately, even with Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic restored to the starting eleven, Mourinho’s side fell to a 3-1 defeat.
United went into the second round of Europa League fixtures off the back of a thrilling 4-1 win over the champions, Leicester City, at Old Trafford. They faced relatively unknown opponents Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford but a side fielding a lot of regular players plus Sergio Romero and Timothy Fosu-Mensah found it difficult to break down the visitors, as they scraped at 1-0 win due to an Ibrahimovic header. Following this result, the reds competed on the Sunday against Stoke City at Old Trafford. Anthony Martial scored the opening goal in the 69th minute after United wasted a string of clear chances, which they were made to pay when Stoke City snatched a late equaliser.
Going into the third round of Europa League games, United had faced Liverpool at Anfield on Monday before returning home to play Fenerbahce of Turkey on Thursday. On this occasion, the reds pulled together as Paul Pogba and co. strode to an impressive 4-1 victory, whilst Robin van Persie grabbed a consolation goal for the Dutch club on his Old Trafford return. A Premier League match once more awaited United on the weekend and this time a trip to Chelsea saw the reds get hammered 4-0 by the blues.
United opened November by making their way to Turkey in order to play Fenerbahce in their fourth game of the Europa League group stage. Two stunning goals from the home side meant that United left the Eastern European country empty-handed in a 2-1 defeat. So, how did they cope back in the Premier League? Mourinho’s United met Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium and put in a convincing display which saw Ibrahimovic bag a brace and Pogba plant a typical long-range strike into the top left of the keeper, in a 3-1 success.
In the penultimate group game of the Europa League, Mourinho’s men had Feyenoord at Old Trafford to cope with. Rooney, Juan Mata, an own goal and Jesse Lingard inspired United to a 4-0 triumph. Although on return to the Premier League they were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw against West Ham United at home, leaving them sliding away from the top four.
Manchester United finished off the Europa League group stage requiring a point to guarantee a place in the knockout stages. Mourinho, taking no chances, took all the big guns to the Ukraine and came out with a well-earned 2-0 win. The long travel across Europe didn’t seem to affect the reds on the Sunday after when Tottenham Hotspur visited Old Trafford. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had established himself in the starting XI following a string of impressive performances, scored the only goal of the game to give United a valuable 1-0 win.
So, what kind of impact did the schedule of playing Thursday to Sunday have on the team’s performance and result? Regrettably, as expected, the energy levels of the Premier League performance were lowered, leaving United far off the top of the table and falling behind in the top four race.
Written by Shoaib Khan