After failing to beat Real Sociedad by more than two goals, Manchester United have been confined to the Europa League playoff round. They were only able to secure a 1-0 win in San Sebastian over the eventual group winners.
Now United will have to play two extra fixtures in February and also face one of the eight sides that have dropped down from the Champions League into the secondary European competition.
Many fans would expect United to beat at least 50% of the options, but there are still some teams that it would be better if the team didn’t face.
Here are the main three:
Given the amount of money, Barcelona spent in the summer to bring in players like Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski and Jules Kounde, it was a shock when they only finished third in their Champions League group. This means they could be a dangerous opponent if United were pitted against them.
Barcelona have always seemingly got one over on United. Fans will remember the two Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011 in which they were dominated by Pep Guardiola’s side and more recently after United’s fantastic comeback against Paris Saint Germain in 2019, the Catalan side knocked them out in the very next round.
Finishing third in a group with Napoli and Liverpool is not something that should be counted against the Dutch side and they will pose problems for whichever team they get pitted against.
However, the potential narrative of Ten Hag returning to the team that built his prestige on the European stage cannot be ignored and would be incredibly exciting for United fans. It does, however, seem like a difficult tie in regards to the quality of the opponent and one that United should be looking to avoid until later in the competition.
Many would expect this spot to go to Juventus but the Italian side are incredibly dysfunctional under Massimiliano Allegri and United should be able to easily defeat them over two legs. Instead, Ruben Amorim’s well-coached Sporting CF side are one that could cause issues.
With players like Marcus Edwards, Pedro Goncalves and Pedro Porro they have an incredibly talented core that is able to score goals. And the defensive structure that Amorim has implemented would make it hard for Ten Hag’s side to break down.