Manchester United’s 2-1 win against Crystal Palace on Saturday, combined with Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Sunday means that United are all but guaranteed to be playing Champions League football next season.
It would take an extraordinary collapse now for Louis van Gaal’s team to be overtaken by Liverpool and lose fourth place, United are six points ahead and have a superior goal difference of 14.
But their chances of catching Manchester City in second and Arsenal in third are also unlikely, meaning they are destined for the play-off round on their return to European competition. The play-off round, which next season will be played on August 18/19 and 25/26, a couple of weeks after the start of the Premier League.
Uefa seeds teams for the draw, meaning United will avoid the likes of Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk and Napoli. But the list of potential opponents offers some nightmare travel possibilities for van Gaal’s side.
United’s Potential Champions League Playoff Opponents:
- Second-placed team in Holland (Ajax)
- Third-placed team in Ligue 1 (Monaco, Marseille or Saint-Etienne)
- Second-placed team in Russia (Krasnodar or CSKA Moscow)
- Second-placed team in Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk or Dnipro)
- Second-placed team in Belgium (Gent, Anderlecht or Standard Liege)
- Second-placed team in Turkey (Galatasaray, Fenerbahce or Besiktas)
- Second-placed team in Greece (Panathinaikos or PAOK)
- Second-placed team in Switzerland (Young Boys)
- Second-placed team in Austria (Rapid Vienna or Sturm Graz)
- Second-placed team in Czech Republic (Sparta Prague or Jablonec)
A mid-week trek to Turkey to face Galastasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas would be one that LVG will want to avoid. So would a four-hour flight to Russia to meet either Krasnodar or CSKA Moscow, and United fans still have nightmares abbot their last Champions League trip to Greece.
United will be heavily favored whoever they player, but Louis van Gaal will be hoping for a short boat trip to Holland or Belgium. ThePlay-off Round is far from straightforward and the unthinkable scenario of demotion to the Europa League looms over all the leading lights who find themselves here.