Manchester United and Erik ten Hag will have identified the UEFA Europa League as one of the best ways to try and obtain silverware this season, however their quest to do so has certainly not started off in the right way.
Having hosted Real Sociedad in the first match of the Group Stage – where they are placed alongside Sheriff Tiraspol and Omonia Nicosia in Group E – the Red Devils were beaten in controversial circumstances.
The game was decided via a penalty awarded to the Spanish side when a handball decision that had been disputed had been given against Lisandro Martinez in the 59th minute of the game after coming on as a second-half substitute for Diogo Dalot. Brais Mendez dispatched the resulting penalty.
This was not all before Cristiano Ronaldo could find the back of the net with a header. However, his effort was ruled out for offside before he had another opportunity shortly after the interval he failed to take.
The defeat will have been disappointing for everyone connected to Manchester United as they will have wanted to assert their place in a group many would expect them to win. The Red Devils will now go on to play Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova on September 15 in what will likely be a tricky and tense atmosphere.
Can Manchester United still win the UEFA Europa League?
While it has only been one game and the far-from-perfect start that Ten Hag and his players would have wanted or expected to happen, there will still be plenty of optimism that they can go on to win the UEFA Europa League this season.
The defeat could have been the perfect way for the club to reset after going on a four-game winning streak in the Premier League following the embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Brentford earlier in the campaign.
It is also important to remember that they have one of the strongest and most-talented squads in the entire competition at this stage of the tournament, thus making them an instant favorite despite the fact they suffered defeat.
According to the UEFA Europa League betting odds, Manchester United are listed as the second favorite to win the trophy this season. They are valued at +800, with Arsenal the market favorite at +550. Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma are currently third (+1400), thus perhaps highlighting just how strong Ten Hag’s squad is and their chances of winning the title.
As already noted, we are just one game in and it should not be defining how the tournament could end up, as we have seen so many occasions where the eventual winners of competitions win after losing the very first game.
What’s next in the competition?
Manchester United will want to dust themselves off from the controversial defeat and with games coming at an incredibly rapid pace, there will not be too much time for the players or squad to be downbeat about what has happened.
On September 15, the team will fly out to Moldova to play Sheriff Tiraspol in a game that the club can not approach lightly and will need to be as focused as ever before. The Moldovans may be a small club, but they have a history of making life difficult. If you go back to last year’s UEFA Champions League campaign, they defeated Real Madrid 2-1 in Spain.
If Ten Hag’s side approaches this game the right way, they will be in a strong position to qualify after two games, with Omonia Nicosia to follow shortly after. If they can get wins against these two teams, the Red Devils will feel they can qualify for the next stage ahead of playing each of the three teams once again. And, all that matters is qualifying at this stage of the competition.
There is no doubt that the defeat to Real Sociedad will have been disappointing for Manchester United, especially given the circumstances. However, it is still very early days into the UEFA Europa League competition, and given that they have one of the strongest squads in the tournament, there is still every chance that they can win it!