As soon as the Red Devils were knocked out by Bayern Munich in the champions league last season, the possibility of qualifying for the elite European competition was all but over. So some fans were hoping for the club to atleast make it into Europa League to offer them with some sort of European adventure. Unfortunately United were not able to achieve that either.
A season without any European action was considered disastrous initially though, but now those fans will be pleased that United also missed the Europa League. Due to lack of European fixtures, the Reds were able to focus purely on securing the top four places and that has finally helped in the great run the Reds are currently enjoying. United are now experiencing the same rewards Liverpool managed last season, when they went so close to winning the league.
With United’s primary target is to get back into Europe immediately, experts emphasized the importance of a lack of European games. They felt that if United were to play every Thursday and Sunday, then the players may not be fully fit for the league games. So missing out on Europa League was considered as a blessing in disguise in many ways and it has so far been true.
Moreover lack of midweek involvement has meant that United are fresh at the business end of the season than their rivals. The four English clubs who qualified to the Champions League did not enjoy a great run in that tournament. After Liverpool were knocked out in the group stages, the other three Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal got knocked out in the round of sixteen.
So these three clubs played an additional eight fixtures. Despite being knocked out last December itself, Liverpool too played an additional couple of fixtures for dropping into Europa league. So what difference just eight more fixture may make? The answer is that these four clubs had to play three games in the space of seven days atleast for eight more weeks than Manchester United played.
The Reds had an entire week rest to recover for a league game, however United’s rivals were deprived of the luxury. So they have to change the squad continuously or field the same tired players. It has not just helped them with producing consistent performance, but also ensured that their players will be more tired come the end of season compared to United players.
It was evident in the games against the big four rivals. At Liverpool United started off with such a pace and played with such high intensity that Liverpool were not able to keep up with United’s pressing and eventually succumbed to it. That was one of the reason for introducing Steven Gerrard at half time to inject more aggressiveness in the game, unfortunately the move backfired and Gerrard got too aggressive and was sent off.
In the game against Manchester City, the Blues started with such an high tempo, however they couldn’t keep that momentum going as they faded away as the match wore on. Hence, the fresh legs of United players took advantage of it to trash City 4-2 on the night.
As a result of this advantage, United were able to play with such an intensity at a time of a season when teams often depend on just coming out of a matches without anyone getting injured. Also when other teams were offering extra days off for their players to recover from fitness after a long season, the Reds were alone able to increase their training regime to keep everyone fit.
However, lack of Europe action may alone not hand the initiative to the Reds, but this significant little advantage certainly played a important role in United managing an unlikely yet impressive streak in the business end while their rivals struggled for fitness.