Is the Europa League already Manchester United's main focus?
Background Image Via: Flickr/Daniel. CC BY 2.0.
After kicking off the Premier League in style, Manchester United have been on a downward trajectory domestically. The walls are closing in on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and though the Red Devils' on-the-road woes have been somewhat halted, the Old Trafford club finds themselves sitting in tenth place.
It's not just their league position which is concerning. United are, ironically, a huge ten points off fourth-placed Chelsea - who the 20-time Premier League champions thumped on opening day. In fact, the Baby Faced Assassin and his players are closer to the relegation zone than they are the top four.
In stark contrast, United are unbeaten in four Europa League games. They've already sealed their place in the knockout rounds with two games to spare. The question I ask is this: Are Solskjaer and this United team already prioritising continental glory as opposed to pushing for a place within an already-crowded top-four party?
Not forgetting that now, the winners of the Europa League qualify for Champions League football the following season, you can already begin to see the logic behind it - and the signs that Solskjaer thinks that's the way to go started coming to the fore last night.
First and foremost, you look at the strength of the team that United went with for the game against Partizan last night. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Harry Maguire and even the Reds' Player of the Season so far, Scott McTominay, all started. Solskjaer is already paying the price with the 22-year-old Scot picking up an injury late on in the fixture. The extent of which is currently unknown.
This tournament was *supposed* to be a welcome relief for the senior players to rest up and get themselves fully ready for the crunch Premier League matches. There were no signs of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong or Brandon Williams on the pitch. Mason Greenwood did start (and score) but he's a different breed altogether.
You even look at the strength of team United have gone with in the Carabao Cup. I mean sure, Chelsea were the opposition, but compare and contrast their starting line-up with United's and you'll start to understand. Perhaps this isn't even a Europa League thing, more Solskjaer trying to add a trophy to a cabinet by means of satisfying the fans somewhat.
I guess more light will be shed come kick-off Sunday when United host Brighton & Hove Albion. It'll be intriguing to see whether Solskjaer opts for a more youthful-looking side, particularly due to the short turnaround time. Personally, I reckon it's too early to be throwing in the Premier League towel, but you can understand the logic behind it - particularly when you factor in the quality of opposition. Let's face it, United have a far better chance at beating, say, a Sevilla or Sporting Lisbon over two legs than making up a ten+ point gap on Chelsea, Leicester City and everyone else in between...
After all, we're barely over a quarter of the way into the season. There are ample games ahead and no doubt, even more twists and turns to come. It'd be a sackable offence to give up the ghost already, which I actually don't think Solskjaer is doing. There does come a time when you have to choose, though, but will the Baby Faced Assassin be the one tasked with that option? I guess we'll have to wait and see but unless United start moving up the table, it could be a valid question...