Manchester United almost guaranteed Champions League group stage place if they win Europa League
Manchester United take a one-goal advantage into the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo after their 1-0 victory in Spain last night.
Marcus Rashford sealed the win with a dipping free kick which left Sergio Alvarez wanting, and Jose Mourinho admits he may rest players domestically because the Europa League provides their best chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
But how do the Europa League winners qualify for the Champions League and at what stage do they enter?
How do Europa League winners qualify for the Champions League?
As per Uefa's website, the winners of the Champions League are automatically granted a place in the competition’s group stages the following season as a reward.
The winners of the Europa League are also rewarded with a place in the competition, being entered into the playoff round at a minimum.
The Europa League winners enter in the group stages if the Champions League winners qualify directly for the competition anyway through their own domestic league position.
For example, if a Spanish club won the Champions League and finished from first to third in La Liga, then the Europa League winners would enter the following season’s Champions League at the group stages.
The Europa League winners only end up having to play a qualifier if the Champions League winners do not qualify automatically for the competition’s group stages via their domestic league, (i.e., in the La Liga example above, the Champions League winners would have to finish fourth or lower).
So, what are the possibilities for United?
How can United qualify for the Champions League?
If one of Real Madrid, Juventus or Monaco win the Champions League this season and Manchester United win the Europa League, United will be directly entered into the 2017/18 Champions League group stage.
All three of those Champions League semi-finalists have already qualified for next season’s group stage through their domestic leagues.
However, in the unlikely event that Atletico Madrid overturn the 3-0 semi-final defeat they suffered to Real and go on to win the Champions League, United could be entered into the playoff round.
For this to happen, Atletico would also have to finish fourth in La Liga. Diego Simeone’s side are currently third, three points ahead of fourth-placed Sevilla, with three games remaining.
If United qualify and finish outside the top four, will a top-four team miss out?
Uefa regulations mean that a maximum of five teams from the same league can qualify for the Champions League, meaning if United win the Europa League, the side which finishes fourth in the Premier League will not miss out on a Champions League place.