Monday, May 27, 2024

European Spots And Promotions Decided As Red Devils Prevail And Saints Ascend

Newcastle and Leeds were the big losers this weekend, except perhaps for one of the winning managers. Manchester United upset rival Manchester City to win the FA Cup and secure a Europa League spot for next season. Chelsea defaults to competing in the Europa Conference League. Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at Wembley knocks Newcastle out of Europe altogether.

Manchester City lost the chance to post a domestic double for a second consecutive year but still has the Premier League title in hand, its fourth in succession. The league champions seemed to be little troubled by Saturday’s loss as they celebrated the league accomplishment with a Sunday parade. In truth, the Citizens did not put up much of a fight in the cup final the day before. Haaland, Foden and company were largely silenced by a United defense that was bolstered by the returns from injury of center backs Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez.

Meanwhile, it was young Red Devils Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, both 19 years old, who found the net and provided what will perhaps be a parting gift for Manager Eric ten Hag. The potential of its young stars provides hope for a Manchester United future which may not include the embattled manager as reports widely circulated before the cup final that the Dutch manager would be sacked regardless of the outcome. An injury riddled season saw the Red Devils tumble to eighth in the table, the club’s worst ever Premier League finish. The discouraging league result which included embarrassing home losses to clubs further down the table, combined with a bottom finish in a less than imposing Champions’ League group might well outweigh Sunday’s trophy. Ten Hag would potentially depart on a defiant high note, however, declaring after Saturday’s victory that if he were no longer wanted, he would go win trophies elsewhere. The FA Cup trophy, captured in a second consecutive FA Cup final, takes its place next to the Carabao Cup silverware ten Hag won last year.

With Sunday’s win, ten Hag joins Thomas Tuchel as the only manager to defeat Pep Guardiola in an English domestic cup final. There would be a certain irony if ten Hag were to be replaced, as some rumors have it, by Mauricio Pochettino who has never won English silverware. Guardiola, meanwhile, will have been frustrated by Manchester City’s inability to execute on Saturday. Despite controlling the ball for 74% of the match, the Citizens were unable to break though until Jeremy Doku’s 87th minute goal made things a bit interesting in the end. Numerous Manchester City stars were off their game as the celebrated fourth league title might well have detracted from the focus on Saturday at Wembley.

Surely Newcastle supporters will have been more distraught than those in blue on Saturday. Manchester United’s win locked up a Europa League place which otherwise would have been Chelsea’s. The domino effect sees Newcastle staying home next season while Chelsea competes in the Europa Conference League.

Of course, there never seems total certainty about anything in the current turbulence of world football. Manchester United’s new minority owner, INEOS, must reach some form of resolution with UEFA to overcome multi-club ownership rules prohibiting clubs with common ownership from competing in the same tournament. INEOS are sole owners of Ligue 1 Nice, which has also qualified for the Europa League. INEOS has indicated confidence that a situation whereby Manchester United might be relegated to the Europa Conference League will be avoided.

Clarity on who is playing in the Premier League next season was provided on Sunday when Southampton won the Championship final to earn promotion to the English top tier. The Saints 1-0 victory over Leeds returns Southampton to the Premier League after a one-year absence.

Another familiar face in Leicester had earlier ascended to recaptured Premier League status by virtue of winning the regular season Championship title. Ipswich, the second place second tier finisher, will return to the Premier League for the first time in 22 years. Adam Armstrong scored the winner for Southampton on Sunday in a tense match which belied the frenzied nature of a typical Southampton match. Matches involving the high pressing Saints under Manager Russell Martin produced more goals than those involving any other club in the top three tiers of English football this season. Such a style may be dangerous and the results not so heavenly should the Saints replicate it in the Premier League next season. Leeds, meanwhile, lost for the sixth time in a promotion playoff match. The Whites now face tough financial decisions on key players amid declining parachute payments from the Premier League in what will be a second season post relegation.

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