So, after the 0-1 win in San Sebastián, Manchester United ended up finishing second in their group and will face one of the teams that has dropped out of the Champions League in the play-off round in February 2023.
But who are their potential rivals in the draw?
The Dutch side had an incredibly difficult group so ending up in third place is no lousy result. They were soundly beaten by Napoli and Liverpool in all the games but made light work of Rangers twice. Their squad is nevertheless incredibly dangerous: Kudus, Bergwijn and Tadic always present a threat up front and having Justin Timber and Calvin Bassey mean they have two huge guardians to get past. A game at the Johan Cruijff Arena is never easy and Ajax would present a tough challenge for the English side.
Xavi’s side spent the cash and pulled the levers over summer but, in the end, their fate was sealed before the final two games. A dreadful European campaign sees them back where they were at this time last season and they come into the Europa League with something of an identity crisis. Their intentions are good but something is seriously failing: how does a team have so much possession but so little control? Barcelona have a lot of problems in defence but up top they can do serious damage; Lewandowski is in the form of his life and the team have already admitted in public that their objective is to win the competition.
Despite having perhaps the best dressed manager across Europe in Xabi Alonso, Bayer Leverkusen are perhaps the most boring team left in the tournament. It appears even the ex-Madrid midfielder is struggling to get a coherent tune out of them and, in all honesty, Bayer remain in this tournament because of Atlético Madrid’s embarrassingly poor season so far. This would maybe be the most favourable tie for Eric ten Hag’s side as the German outfit do not look like they are in a position to cause serious damage over two legs.
Another Spanish team that have had a terrible season so far. Sevilla currently sit in the relegation zone and have only won 3 games all season. Their new manager, Jorge Sampaoli, has struggled to get his new squad to adapt to his ideas. They put up a good show against Manchester City for the most part and Sampaoli definitely recognised the green shoots post-match, but it would take a gargantuan effort for the 6-time winners to win against the Manchester side over two legs.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s former club are an option for his current club in the next round of the Europa League. They still had the chance to go to the next round in the final match but a 1-2 loss at home to Eintracht Frankfurt sent them into Europe’s second competition. This would not be an easy tie for Manchester United, given that Ruben Amorim’s side are incredibly well-coached and players like Pedro Gonçalves and Marcus Edwards can cause damage at the slightest smell of blood.
The Old Lady finished the group with an absolutely head-exploding total of 3 points. They won one solitary game, a 3-1 home victory against Maccabi Haifa (they lost the return game 2-0). Granted, Benfica and PSG is not an easy group, but for a team with Kostic, Locatelli, Milik and Chiesa, one win out of 6 is rip-up-the-history-books worthy. If Manchester United were to draw the Italian side, one would imagine that their fortunes would have turned round by the time the matches come around. But for now, a pair of games against La Vecchia Signora might not be the worst thing.
Chelsea and AC Milan cruised to the finish line in the end, but Salzburg still managed to come away with a draw from each of the sides. Noah Okafor scored against both teams but Benjamin Sesko grabbed all the headlines with his wonderful volley in a recent match for his country, Slovenia. They may seem like one of the sides favoured in the draw by Manchester United fans, but an away game in Austria with two on-fire strikers would not be a given by any means.
Europe’s surprise competitors this season. Shakhtar have put up a huge fight in every match they have played, despite going through unimaginably tough circumstances off the pitch. Winger Mykhailo Mudryk has been the breakout star of the tournament and the Ukrainian side would definitely be no pushovers: it took a 95th minute equaliser from Antonio Rüdiger for Real Madrid to leave with a point.
Manchester United’s potential Europa League opponents:
The draw will be held on Monday 7 November. The first legs of the play-off round will be played on 16 February 2023 and the return ties a week later. The winners of the ties then will be drawn against the original group leaders on 24 February 2023.
- Who can Manchester United face in the Europa League?
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