Manchester United may have designs on a return to the Champions League under Erik ten Hag, but this season they’re fully focused on succeeding in the Europa League.
A 3-0 victory over Sheriff has set up a showdown with Real Sociedad on the final matchday of the group stage to decide who wins Group E. However, the onus is on United to get a positive result if they want to avoid a nasty play-off fixture – which we’ll get to shortly.
Here’s how United can win their group.
The eight group winners reach the last 16 of the Europa League automatically. Those ties are played in March. The runners-up, however, qualify first for a two-legged play-off against one of the third-placed Champions League teams.
In a season already filled with fixtures, the last thing United need is to fill a gap in their schedule with a play-off tie against a team dropping from Europe’s premier competition – United already have two postponed Premier League games to fit into their calendar.
Six-time Europa League winners Sevilla will again drop down into the competition, as will Barcelona. Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Ajax could also be involved.
The first legs of the ties will be played on 16 February 2023 and the return games will be played on 23 February. The draw for the play-offs will be held on 7 November.
Real Sociedad and Manchester United have sewn up the top two spots in Group E, with neither Sheriff nor Omonia Nicosia capable of catching them up on the final matchday.
With five games played, Real Sociedad are top with 15 points. United trail them on 12, winning four of their outings. Sociedad won the first game between the two sides 1-0 thanks to Brais Mendez’s penalty.
The primary tiebreaker used by UEFA in the Europa League is the head-to-head record, so United need to better Sociedad’s 1-0 result at Old Trafford in order to top the group. A 1-0 win will not be enough for United, as the head-to-head records would be equal and goal difference would be used as the next tiebreaker; Sociedad are three goals ahead.