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Why Man Utd needs to prioritise the Europa League…

Beating Chelsea on the weekend served as a major source of joy in what has been an extremely frustrating season for Manchester United.

What we witnessed on Sunday was a pure tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho. He played to his team's strengths and exploited Chelsea's weaknesses.

The Blues failed to find any sort of rhythm in the tie mainly due to United's relentless man-marking which was exemplified by Ander Herrera's blatant stalking of Eden Hazard.

With a performance like that, it's easy to put United back in the race for a Champions League spot, but one special game against Chelsea doesn't mean much at this stage of the season.

United's form under Mourinho has been far too sporadic for a top-four finish to be on the cards now.

The team's absence from the Champions League places can be attributed to their inability to convert goalscoring opportunities.

Regarding performances, this is by far, their best campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson's final season at the helm. Mourinho has managed to reintroduce the current Red Devils to the 'United way' but his players have been lacklustre, not unlucky as most would suggest, in front of goal.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has produced the goods on a consistent basis for United, has also held them back with his lack of pace as well as his over-reliance on service from his teammates.

United are currently four points adrift of neighbours Manchester City. Whilst a string of fine results would undoubtedly see Mourinho's side overtake the Citizens, judging by the calibre of teams they're yet to face, they're unlikely to hit a rich vein of form anytime soon.

With games against City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur coming up, it's hard to envisage United using their win over Chelsea as a stepping stone to a top-four finish.

Their fixture list simply won't allow it.

United have a rich history of challenging on multiple fronts, but their current quandary is such that focusing on both the Premier League and the Europa League could see them end the term without a spot in in Europe's elite for 2017/18.

Manchester United, though, still have a huge avenue for success in the form of the Europa League.

Winning Europe's second tier competition, of course, guarantees Champions League qualification, but it also comes with the added prestige of lifting a European trophy before setting sail for the continent's top echelon next term.

Whilst their top four hopes are not entirely bleak, the odds of United winning the Europa League are considerably higher seeing as they're one of the few reputable teams left in the competition.

The likes of Besiktas, Ajax, Schalke and Olympique Lyon are arguably the only sides capable of preventing United from lifting the trophy, but at the end of the day, they're also teams that Mourinho's side really should be beating with relative ease.

The Red Devils play host to Anderlecht on Thursday as they look to make it into the semi-finals of Europe's second rated cup competition. After a first leg which ended in a 1-1 draw, the tie at Old Trafford is a must-win fixture for Mourinho's side.

Putting all his eggs from a successful Easter into his Europa League basket would be a smart move for Mourinho to make should United progress into the final four of the competition which would see them in with a very strong hand of advancing to the May 24 final in Sweden.

Phillip Ekuwem
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Phillip Ekuwem

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