David Moyes is being placed under greater pressure at Manchester United as the club's owners, the Glazer family, are demanding Europa League qualification, club sources have told ESPN.
United no longer have any realistic hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League, but reaching UEFA's second-tier tournament is still very much a possibility.
While sources say the manager has not been given anything like an ultimatum, reaching European competition is now seen by the club's owners as a major target for the remainder of the season.
Although there is an external perception that a lack of continental football may actually aid the side next season, as has been the case in this campaign with Liverpool’s title challenge, that is not the view at the top levels of the club. The Glazers see such games as exceptionally significant in terms of revenue, particularly given the level of attendance that United usually guarantee.
Club sources have told ESPN FC that the “cold reality” of failing to qualify for the Champions League has hit the owners since last month's quarterfinal elimination by Bayern Munich, with the manager’s situation now having changed again since the initial last-16 victory over Olympiakos.
The 3-0 second-leg win in that tie seemed to have secured Moyes’ status, but it is understood his position is no longer quite so safe.
While, according to sources, he is not “on the brink of the brink,” as was the case following the 2-0 first-leg defeat to the Greek side, a summer sacking is still far from unthinkable.
That latest shift reflects some of the debate that has gone at boardroom level regarding Moyes’ performance, and the way the pendulum of opinion has swung.
ESPN FC has been told doubts first properly grew among the hierarchy after January’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat at home to Swansea City, which was the initial point at which key figures had even contemplated that the manager’s tenure perhaps should not be as long term as initially anticipated. Since then, the Glazers have also taken a much more active interest in weekly performance.
United’s form has picked up in the last month, however, with three wins in their last four Premier League games and a respectable showing against Bayern in the Champions League.
That has moved them to within three points of sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand, not to mention a vastly superior goal difference compared to the Londoners.
Seventh place would be enough for United to qualify for the Europa League in the event of Arsenal winning the FA Cup but finishing fifth.