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The nightmare opponents Manchester United could draw in the Europa League if they finish second in their group

Rory O'Callaghan

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The nightmare opponents Manchester United could draw in the Europa League if they finish second in their group

Manchester United could be drawn against one of the biggest teams in European football in the next round of the Europa League if they finish second in their group behind Real Sociedad.

United are currently second in Group E - three points behind Sociedad, who beat the Red Devils 1-0 at Old Trafford last month.

If United avoid defeat at home to Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday night they will be assured of their place in the next round of the competition.

But Erik ten Hag's side almost certainly need to win to keep alive their hopes of topping the group, with Sociedad expected to beat bottom club Omonoia.

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Should both United and Sociedad win on Thursday, it would set up a mouth-watering clash between the two sides in Spain on November 3 – with the Premier League club needing to win by more than 1-0 to guarantee themselves top spot in the group.

If they lose or draw, they could face a difficult opponent in the first knockout stage of the competition, which sees the teams that finished third in their Champions League group drop down into the Europa League.

While Europa League group winners will progress directly to the last 16, runners-up will first have to play a two-legged knockout tie against a team that has come via the Champions League route.

Spanish giants Barcelona are already guaranteed to be one those third-place teams, having been eliminated from the Champions League on Wednesday night, while fellow La Liga side Sevilla will also drop down into the Europa League.

Cristiano Ronaldo will return to United's squad for Thursday's match against Sheriff Tiraspol (Image: Alamy)
Cristiano Ronaldo will return to United's squad for Thursday's match against Sheriff Tiraspol (Image: Alamy)

Ajax will finish third in their Champions League group if they avoid defeat to Rangers in their final match, while Atletico Madrid could secure their place in the Europa League if they beat Porto away from home.

Group D in the Champions League is still wide open, with all four teams – Tottenham, Sporting, Eintracht Frankfurt and Marseille – capable of making it through.

But should Spurs finish third, they would avoid a potential match against United, with teams from the same association prevented from drawing each other in the knockout round of the Europa League.

Other teams United could face if they finish second in their group are German club RB Leipzig, Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk and Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, depending on results in the final round of Champions League fixtures.

United could potentially face Barcelona in the next round of the Europa League (Image: Alamy)
United could potentially face Barcelona in the next round of the Europa League (Image: Alamy)

Meanwhile, the hardest potential fixture for United is a two-legged tie against Italian giants Juventus.

The Serie A side are currently third in their group will qualify for the Europa League if they better Maccabi Haifa's result in the final round of games in Champions League.

The Italians take on group leaders Paris Saint-Germain in Turin, while Haifa host Benfica.

Up first, however, for United is Thursday's must-win clash with Sheriff Tiraspol.

United boss Ten Hag has already confirmed Cristiano Ronaldo will return to the squad after being briefly banished over his refusal to come on as a late substitute against Tottenham in the Premier League.

Anything other than a win for the Red Devils would likely end their hopes of finishing top of their group.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Manchester United, Football, Europa League, Premier League

Rory O'Callaghan
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