Bayern Munich
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Tottenham Hotspur
AS Roma
ESPN3 12:05 AM UTC Jul 26, 2017
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Atletico Madrid
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United States
1:30 AM UTC Jul 27, 2017
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Manchester United
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Manchester City
Real Madrid
ESPN3 3:35 AM UTC Jul 27, 2017
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Transfer Rater: Coutinho to Barcelona


Manchester United players, LVG and Glazers to blame for Europa League

Wayne Rooney spoke for all Manchester United fans when he said he'd rather not play in the Europa League.

But with the top four an unlikely goal in the Premier League even accounting for Manchester City's poor form, the competition may be United's only hope for Champions League football next season.

It's hard to decide which gateway to Europe's elite competition is the unlikelier route. Most fans are resigning themselves to the fact they will probably be travelling to small towns in Denmark next season, and not Madrid or Paris. The chances of making it all the way to the final and winning Europe's second-rate tournament are as slim as picking up seven more points than City in the remaining months of the Premier League campaign.

When looking for people to blame for this dire situation, Louis van Gaal is on the receiving end of most of the finger pointing. United's football has been dreadful and they've lost far too many games against teams they should be beating like Sunderland, Swansea, Bournemouth and Norwich.

United go through spells when they appear to have turned a corner, only to crash back down to earth. It's hard to see how Van Gaal could still have the dressing room onside when they so regularly produce such lacklustre performances.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is also a popular figure for criticism. He's been unsuccessful in landing the big name players he's bragged about United being able to sign, and massively overpaid for the ones that were convinced to swap trophies for Old Trafford. Chelsea and Real Madrid wanted rid of Juan Mata and Angel Di Maria, yet United still managed to break their club transfer record for their signatures; £37.1 million and £59.7m respectively.

Having failed to make a decision on David Moyes' future before it became mathematically impossible to finish in the top four in the 2013-14 campaign, it appears as though the same approach is being taken with Van Gaal. Rather than act when there is time to remedy the situation, Woodward waits until there's no other decision to be made.

The players shouldn't be exempt from blame, as even with the dull tactics that have been employed for most of the season, that doesn't excuse the clear cut chances that have been missed week on week, or the failure to defend their goal adequately.

However, the party most at fault, the driving force behind United's decline, has escaped with relatively little criticism. The Glazer family, who were the target of plenty of protests six years ago, barely get a mention when ranting United fans take to social media, telling whoever runs the club's official account to sack Van Gaal whenever they send out a tweet.

There hasn't been one anti-Glazer chant at Old Trafford this season, let alone the banners, scarves and regular songs that the home crowds were involved with in 2010, when United finished second, won the League Cup and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

After finishing fourth last season, the bare minimum requirement for Van Gaal's first term in charge, United had a net spend of just £28m. This isn't peanuts, of course, but it's certainly not the sort of investment you would expect from the third richest club in the world, one that is expected to earn £500m this year and is in desperate need to putting themselves back on the map.

It has been a troubled campaign for Manchester United and Louis van Gaal.

When you consider that rivals Manchester City, who finished second last season, had a net spend of over £100m over the summer, it puts United's outgoings in to perspective.

It's also worth noting that United have shaved £13m off their wage bill since last season, making the right decision in allowing some of the biggest earners to leave the club, but failing to replace them with the sort of player that would demand a world-class salary.

Herning, the host city for United's Europa League tie on Thursday, has a population of fewer than 50,000, which is fairly fitting when you consider that is the sort of attendance the Glazers can expect at the return leg against FC Midtjylland at Old Trafford. That is probably not much of a consideration for United's owners, though, who will see the gate money as small fry compared to money coming their way from television and commercial deals.

The owner of the Danish club, Matthew Benham, rejected the idea of playing in a larger ground for Thursday's game, instead opting to charge the fans £71 for the privilege of being in the 11,800 capacity stadium, the MCH Arena. Just 600 United fans were given tickets in the away end, although when Southampton went to the same ground earlier this season, they were charged just £22, and the supporters have something to say about that.

Still, those 600 fans will be hoping to see the style of football that Van Gaal was able to implement in the recent performances against Stoke and Chelsea, more than what has been in place for the majority of the season, most recently away to Sunderland.

However, with so many first team players unavailable, including Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Marouane Fellaini, Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Adnan Januzaj and Marcos Rojo, United's task may be harder than anticipated.

In their favour, Midtjylland are third in the Danish league and have won just one of their last eight games.

If United can't get a result against this lot, they don't deserve a place in the competition, or an upgrade to the Champions League next season.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.


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