Man Utd failure throws up huge EPL problem that puts Ten Hag at a disadvantage

Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag Credit: Alamy
Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag Credit: Alamy

Man Utd and the Premier League have a huge problem looming on the horizon after failing to win their Europa League group.

The Red Devils amassed an impressive 15 points in Europa League Group E. However, like Liverpool in the Champions League, that total wasn’t enough to secure top spot.

That honour went to Napoli in Liverpool’s case and Real Sociedad in United’s. The end result for the latter is they now have two extra matches slotted into their calendar.

Europa League group winners advance directly to the Round of 16, with the first legs scheduled to take place on March 9.

Conversely, group runners-up must go through the play-off round that includes the Champions League drop-outs before the winners of those ties then advance to the Last 16.

The first and second legs of the play-off round are due to take place on February 16 and 23 respectively. According to ESPN’s Dale Johnson, those were the last two free midweeks Manchester United had left to reschedule their postponed Premier League fixtures.

Due to the Queen’s passing and the events surrounding it, United have two postponed matches left to slot in – against Leeds United and Crystal Palace.

Per Johnson, United’s failure to win their Europa League group has left ‘no natural space in the calendar’ for the EPL fixtures to be placed. In his words, ‘every single weekend and midweek is already accounted for.’

Between now and season’s end, all of United’s spare midweeks are covered by potential FA Cup replays, later rounds of the EFL Cup or are already reserved for ‘specified catch-up dates’ related to the two domestic cup competitions.

Because of their presence in the Europa play-off round, United are the only English side in Europe who cannot reschedule their postponed games in February or March.

Of course, United’s early exit from either the FA Cup or EFL Cup could clear the logjam. However, that would also be reliant on Leeds or Crystal Palace getting knocked out too.

How the situation will be resolved at present is unclear. However, one thing is for sure, Ten Hag’s side will be the busiest of all the English clubs in the second half of the season – assuming they don’t exit the domestic cup competitions early, of course.

Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham effected too

Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham are also reported to be in a similar, albeit looser predicament.

Two of the postponed Premier League fixtures were Chelsea v Liverpool and Man City v Tottenham. All four clubs have advanced in the Champions League, though that has presented its own issue.

The fixtures could, in theory, be slotted into the weeks commencing February 13 and February 20 (the weeks United play in the Europa play-off round).

However, the Champions League Round of 16 first legs are due to be staggered across those two weeks.

That means Chelsea could be drawn to play in the week commencing February 13 for example, and Liverpool in the week commencing February 20. In that scenario, both weeks would be unable to field the Chelsea v Liverpool Premier League fixture.

Johnson concluded ‘no doubt the Premier League will be watching the Champions League fixture list on Monday and will hope the two pairs play in the same Champions League week.’

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