By Alex Baker
LOS ANGELES – After giving up a lead to lose 3-2 to West Ham United earlier this week, Manchester United head into the final round of Premier League matches this weekend with just the slimmest hope of finishing fourth and qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Currently, United sit fifth on 63 points, two points behind their local rivals Manchester City, who occupy the fourth spot with 65 points. Losing to West Ham means United’s faith is no longer entirely in their own hands.
While taking on a Bournemouth side that’s only victory in the last two months came against already relegated Aston Villa, should be easy enough for Louis van Gaal’s team, United’s hope of qualifying for Europe also rests on City losing to Swansea.
With back-to-back trouncings of Liverpool and West Ham, Swansea are flying high at the moment and look very capable of beating a Man City team that’s been anything but consistent this season, especially given the advantage of playing at home at the Liberty Stadium. However, City on their day are still one of the best clubs in Europe and are firmly in the driver’s seat as we head into the final round of matches.
Also in the frame, are West Ham United who could sneak into fourth with a win against Stoke City, should Manchester City lose and United lose or draw.
At stake is more than $43M in revenue the clubs will lose out on should they fail to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition. West Ham aren’t used to operating with those kinds of margins, but it could prove disastrous for either Manchester club that misses out.
Man City have appointed Pep Guardiola as manager next season. It will be awkward to say the least if the most heralded attacking football tactician of this generation suddenly finds himself coaching a team in the Europa League, Europe’s second-tier club competition.
Man United meanwhile, would also miss out on the money and prestige that comes with Champions League competition. But the real blow would come if they missed out again in 2016-17, in which case the club’s record $100M+ a year kit deal with Adidas would be slashed by 30 percent.
Champions League football is of course about far more than just money. It’s about prestige and perception. Man City have spent a boatload of cash to elbow their way into the elite echelon of Europe’s top clubs.
Man United meanwhile, are struggling to maintain their place at the table, lest the 20-time English top-flight champions find themselves in the same boat as Liverpool – another formerly top side, struggling to regain relevance.
Photos courtesy of ISI and Paul Currie