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“Manchester United’s Champions League Advantage: A Rule Liverpool Just Missed – The Inside Scoop”

Manchester United have had a bad start to the season, but qualifying for the Champions League must remain their top priority this season.

There is change coming at Manchester United, even if it’s not quite as radical as supporters had hoped for, but one area that is unlikely to be affected by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s investment into the club is the demands on Erik ten Hag this season.

That day at Wembley in February when United ended a six-year trophy drought to win the Carabao Cup was memorable for players and supporters, but when it comes to the demands of the business, the priority at the start of every season has to be to book a place in the Champions League. Silverware on top of that is a bonus, for now.

Only twice since 2013 have United enjoyed back-to-back seasons in the Champions League and on one occasion that came via winning the Europa League in a season in which they finished sixth. Only once in the last 10 campaigns have they secured back-to-back top-four finishes.

That is the inconsistency that Ten Hag is striving to end but a couple of months into this season, it is a pattern that is looking all too familiar. United’s third-place finish last season was excellent, but they haven’t built on it. After eight games of this season, they are the epitome of average. Slap bang in the middle of the table, having won four and lost four.

The bookmakers have made their feelings clear on United’s chances of finishing in the top four. They are seventh or eighth favourites, a similar price to Chelsea. The oddsmakers have Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle and Brighton as more likely to occupy those places.

But the good news for United – if you can call it that – is that they might not need to finish in the top four to qualify for next season’s Champions League, and the route back in doesn’t involve winning it at Wembley on June 1 or dropping into the Europa League to win that.

The change in format of next season’s Champions League, with 36 teams competing in the group stage rather than 32, means more qualification spots available and one could go the way of the Premier League, meaning a fifth-place finish, as underwhelming as it will be, would be enough to stay at Europe’s top table.

The route to that is simple; it needs English clubs to play well in Europe this season. United could contribute to that but having played two and lost two, they aren’t exactly pulling their weight at the moment.

To fill the extra spaces in next season’s Champions League, two spots will go to the best-performing leagues in Europe in the current season. If the Premier League ticks that box then fifth place will get in. Indeed, had the new format started this season Liverpool would have benefitted (along with Atalanta in Serie A).

The two leagues will be those who top the coefficient table for the current season. The Premier League has been in the top two in six of the last seven seasons. It missed out in 2019/20 but that was only confirmed when Bayern Munich beat Paris St-Germain in the Champions League final. United fans could already envisage a nightmare scenario of finishing fifth and needing Manchester City to win the Champions League final or Liverpool the Europa League final.

The Premier League is currently eighth in UEFA’s coefficient table, but it is early days and distorted by qualifying results. Turkey are top, Belgium second and both Greece and the Czech Republic above England.

The fact eight English clubs are in Europe (as a result of West Ham winning the Conference League) means each victory is worth a little less than normal, but West Ham, Brighton and Aston Villa all reached the group stages of the Europa League or Conference League, which is vital.

It is too early to be relying on other Premier League clubs to win in Europe every week, and for United fans too dark a concept already. But it should act as an insurance blanket, at the very least.

There is a lot to dislike about the new format of the Champions League, not least the eight group games and one big league table for all 36 clubs. But it will likely ensure at least five Premier League sides qualify most years. United would have been disappointed with fifth back in August, but then the start to the season has brought that option into play.

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