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Friday, 28 February 2014

Captial One Cup: How Sunderland can do Manchester United a big favour

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In the normal run of things, Manchester United fans would want Sunderland to trip up their city rivals in the Capital One Cup Final, but this weekend Old Trafford fans have even more reason than usual to want a Black Cats win.

One of England's three Europa League qualifying places goes to the winner of the Carling pot - but only to the winners. If City win the prize they aren't likely to be needing it, as next season they should be taking another crack at the Champions League, which means the Europa League place reverts to sixth spot in the Premier League.

Rooney 2013At the moment no-one at United is conceding the race to get into the Champions League qualification berths, but a betting man wouldn't risk too much on their chances of bagging a top four slot.

And if the misfiring Moyes machine does miss the top four, it's a fair bet they would like to avoid Europe altogether. Liverpool have shown the benefits of being able to focus on domestic matters only and there would be little glory in a tilt at the Europa pot.

United fans have spent many years deriding teams playing on Thursday night, Channel 5. Better to be outside it than face a torrent of schadenfreude. And for the club as a whole, it has little value. United can do without the cash for a year and it cuts little ice as an enticement with players the club would like to bring in.

The Europa schedule can play havoc with the early season, when the expectation is that the squad will be much revamped (under David Moyes or not) and new players will be bedding in. The critical task will be to get back to the big time of the Champions League and it will be imperative not to be distracted from that goal.

Which returns us to Sunderland, because United's chances of avoiding the Europa League are going to depend on the domestic cup finals. Fifth place in the Premier League already brings with it the poisoned Europa chalice; but if City win the League Cup,  sixth place will also bring a sentence of Europa toil.

An even worse prospect is that Man City and Arsenal (or an already qualified Sunderland) carve up the FA Cup Final and throw the third Europa slot to the seventh placed team in the Premier League.

That would leave United and their fans with an almost impossible task to avoid the Europa League. Bad though they have been this year, it would plumb some depths for the squad to drop as low as eighth.

Article by Hugh Larkin

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