Manchester United’s path to Europe explained with exact permutations following Chelsea blow

Erik ten Hag looks on after the team's victory in the Premier League match between Manchester United and Sheffield United at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag looks on after the team's victory in the Premier League match between Manchester United and Sheffield United at Old Trafford. -Credit:Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It’s getting to that time of year when the calculators come out and spreadsheets are opened to work out what every result means for the position of clubs at the end of the season.

For Manchester United, eyes are on finishing as high up in the Premier League as possible. In what has been a disappointing season, Erik ten Hag’s team currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League, with eyes on playing European football again next season.

But a few bad results could easily see them drop down the league. The possibility of not qualifying for any form of European football at all, for the first time in 10 years, is still on the table, especially with Chelsea coming out as 2-0 winners over Tottenham on Thursday night.

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United have four Premier League games remaining. If they don’t go to plan, they'll have the chance to save the season when the FA Cup final comes around less than a week after the final game.

Here is a look at what different scenarios mean for Ten Hag’s side and which competitions they could be part of in the 2024/25 campaign.

FA Cup

One way that United could guarantee playing in Europe next season is by coming out on top in the FA Cup final. The FA Cup winners automatically earn a place in the Europa League group stage, regardless of their league position.

United booked their place in the competition's final by overcoming Championship side Coventry City in a penalty shootout last month. They take on Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on May 25.

League position

The fact that FA Cup opponents City have already qualified for the Champions League is actually good news for United, because it means that should Ten Hag's men lose at Wembley, that second Europa League place will be allocated to the next highest side in the league rather than to the cup winners. If a team already in the European places wins the FA Cup, then the European places increase from the top six to the top seven.

England’s failure to grab another Champions League spot through their coefficient means that only the top four will qualify for the Champions League. If City win the cup, fifth and sixth would then qualify for the Europa League with seventh place taking part in the Europa Conference League.

This is the situation in which United could potentially find themselves without European football next season. While they are currently in sixth place, there are just three points between them and Chelsea in eighth. The team that finishes in eighth will not play in Europe next season.

For this to happen Newcastle United (53 points) and Chelsea (51 points) would have to overtake United in the Premier League table between now and the end of the season, meaning United fans might want to keep one eye on their rivals during the final weeks of the season.

Newcastle’s remaining games are as follows:

  • Burnley (A) Sat 4 May

  • Brighton (H) Sat 11 May

  • Man United (A) Weds 15 May

  • Brentford (A) Sun 19 May

Chelsea’s are as follows:

  • West Ham (H) Sun 5 May

  • Nottingham Forest (A) Sat 11 May

  • Brighton (A) Weds 15 May

  • Bournemouth (H) Sun 19 May