Out of both domestic cup competitions and with a fix on the heady heights of sixth place, it is almost a relief to see the return of the Champions League.After the disappointment of lacklustre league performances, there is a sense of redemption that comes with facing continental opponents. Hope springs eternal and any team can beat anyone over two legs so not all may be lost in this difficult season. Who knows what might happen come what May.
While no-one at the club would admit that fourth place is a distant dream, this could be the last Champions League campaign for at least a year. Let’s be honest, to reach fourth spot United would have to achieve a string of victories and a level of consistency that has eluded them all season. Other contenders would need to suffer a collapse and that looks equally improbable. Could United take inspiration from their most despised rivals? Could the easier route to Champions League football next season come from winning the competition itself?
Strangely, the Champions League has seen United at their best this season with some positive performances. Stranger things have happened than a team suffering from a substandard league campaign actually winning the elite competition, you only need to see who won it in 2005 to see that.
When Liverpool last won the European Cup it was seen as far-fetched. Their league form was patchy and from a position where reaching the top four was tough, they concentrated on their European campaign. By fielding weakened line-ups in the run to the final, they effectively sacrificed their league campaign in an effort to keep key players fresh. We all know what happened in Istanbul and while it seemed like a miracle, having decided to concentrate on the final their chances improved.
The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid,Chelsea, Bayern Munich and PSG should all have domestic campaigns to juggle alongside the knock-out stages. The Champions League remains the only competition left for United so few could argue against concentrating on it. For David Moyes, the competition has the added incentive of a chance at redemption. There is still a rebuilding task at hand yet progress into the latter stages would prove a few doubters wrong while the players will also see this as an opportunity to prove themselves.
As the season reaches ‘squeaky-bum time’ regular starters like Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie may find themselves oddly refreshed. The challenge for the league title has already ebbed away and without domestic cup fixtures, there are several opportunities to rest and recuperate. While these players will be used to fighting on multiple fronts you would not blame them for trying to make the most of a difficult situation and concentrate on the Champions League.