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STATS: Why Manchester United are a crash course for a date with the Europa League

At this stage, you'd want to start improving your Moldovan

by Aidan Elder | January 20, 2014

Another day, another ‘it’s the Apocalypse  for Manchester United’ style hysteric reaction.

United lost to Chelsea on Sunday. It wasn’t pleasant – Chelsea weren’t amazing and won easily, United were ok at times, Gary Neville said Gary Cahill pulled off Jonny Evans.  Tee hee!

It’s not the disaster some people are enjoying portraying it as. Lots of good teams will go the Stamford Bridge and come away with nothing but a few patronising words from Jose Mourinho. Still though, it’s United’s ninth defeat of the season in all competitions and you have to wonder where it leaves them in the grand scheme of this season. So that’s what we did. We wondered. Somewhat speculatively.

Making the rather dubious assumption that United will continue bumbling along at their current rate of just below 1.7 points per game, that gives them a projected total of 65.6 – we’ll call it 66 because we’ve been dumping on United a lot recently. That’s uncertain enough because along with obviously difficult trips to Arsenal and Everton, every away game starts to look difficult when you’re relying on Nani to do something amazing for you.

Taking that figure and applying it to the Premier League, it implies:

  • United will finish around fifth

In the 21 seasons of the Premier League, a total of 66 would have you earned you fifth place 11 times. Sixth place is the second most likely with five. The good news is that once it was good enough to earn third position, but on the flipside, it could have also earned you seventh once – way back in 1994-95 when Brian Little was still considered the up and coming dynamo of top flight management.

  • They won’t get a Champions League place

If United want to be milking the udders of UEFA’s most lucrative cash cow, they’re going to need to defensively barricade their way Liverpool 2005-style to glory. Only four times in the history of the Premier League has a total of 66 points got a team into the top four come the end of the season. The last time came in the aforementioned 2004-05 season, when Everton claimed fourth with 61 – the second lowest tally to earn fourth in the 21 seasons of the Premier League (Liverpool’s 60 in 2003-04 was the lowest).

All in all, with the Premier League’s varying allocation of Champions League places, it means 66 points got a team into the big one on just two occasions.

  • They’ll probably get a place in the Europa League. Yay?

In true ‘kicking a team firmly in the scrotum when they’re down’ style, the good news is United are likely to end up with European football, just not the version they want. Now obviously they could qualify for Europe via a Capital One Cup win, the Fair Play table or UEFA’s lesser known ‘who can make the best muffins’ tie-breaker, but assuming it’s all based on league position, 66 points would book them a journey to such destinations as Torpedo Kutaisi and Pandurii Târgu Jiu. We don’t even know what language that second one is.

In 16 of the last 18 seasons, 66 points has been enough to get UEFA Cup or Europa League football. There is hope however, last season it wasn’t enough. Spurs got 72 points and took the hit for the team. If United continue on their current trajectory, it would be nice if Tottenham obliged by doing the same this time around.

United could defy some of these gloomy predictions by improving over the second half of the season and collecting more points. Yeah, you wouldn’t bank on it, would you? In reality they’ll probably keep going along as they are, occasionally winning in a way that suggests David Moyes has turned the corner, only to drop points at Crystal Palace.

As Mystic Meg’s career shows, crystal ball gazing isn’t the easiest of professions to get right and there’s still time for things to change. United would want to start turning it around pretty soon.

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