Chelsea Europa League reality explained if Manchester United drop into Conference League

Manchester United's co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe pictured at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge
-Credit: (Image: Robin Jones/Getty Images)

Chelsea could be handed a back-door route to the Europa League if Manchester United fail to prove they are not falling foul of UEFA's multi-club ownership rules.

United managed to qualify for the Europa League at the expense of the Blues on Saturday after beating Manchester City in the FA Cup final. In England, the team that wins the FA Cup and has not qualified for Europe through their league position automatically takes the place of the sixth-place club for the second-tier European competition.

This meant Chelsea were forced to settle for the Conference League, UEFA's new third-tier European competition. However, there could still be hope for the Blues to be playing in the Europa League.

According to UEFA's regulations, two clubs owned by the same person or business cannot compete in the same European competition. This is to ensure the integrity of the competition remains and a scenario does not play out where one club is instructed to lose on purpose.

Where United falls into trouble is that their new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe owns Ligue 1 side Nice who have also qualified for the Europa League. Due to the French team finishing higher in their respective division than the Reds, it would be United who drop into the Europa Conference League.

Theoretically, Chelsea are in a strong position however our colleagues at the Manchester Evening News understand INEOS have been in talks with UEFA about this eventuality for some time and are confident they will be allowed to compete alongside Nice. What Ratcliffe must do between now and June 3 when UEFA meets is that there is enough separation between United and Nice that multi-club rules would not be broken.

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There is a precedent for allowing two teams owned by the same entity to compete in Europe together. Last season, both Aston Villa and Brighton were allowed to enter Europe despite Vitoria and Union Saint-Gilloise being affiliated with them and qualifying for Europe.

If for whatever reason United do drop out of the Europa League, we can expect Chelsea to take their place in the competition.