As Manchester United’s clash with West Ham last week stuttered in the last few minutes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in his tech box scratching his head.
The Norwegian rightly wondered how he can get another high level performance from a team that clearly suffers from fatigue.
His players’ explosive outbursts had become increasingly audible in the last quarter of the game at Old Trafford as they couldn’t find a winner against a resilient West Ham side who had the best chance of scoring.
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That feeling of frustration will increase tenfold if United delivers a similar performance against Leicester City on Sunday.
The season finale at King Power Stadium (11am ET, NBC) will be an exciting and gigantic affair, with a top-four finish dangling like a golden root for both sides. The Champions League spot being offered makes this match ‘The £ 100 million ($ 128 million)’.
The comparison for Solskjaer’s side is simple. One point and it will come back where it thinks it belongs, among the European elite – something that didn’t seem possible from a distance after United’s worst start to a top flight campaign for 30 years, making it 13th in the Premier after nine games League table.
Leicester has to win to secure himself a place in next season’s Champions League, but United is currently unbeaten in the league since the restart.
“It’s a very important game for two reasons,” Kieran Maguire, football expert, told Goal. “First of all, about 80 percent of the TV money for UEFA competitions goes to those clubs that qualify for the Champions League. The Europa League is the poor relationship in European competitions.
United had an income of £ 627 million ($ 800 million) last season when they qualified for the Champions League. They said before the COVID-19 hit that they expected a drop between £ 50 million and £ 60 million due to a lack of participation in the Champions League and then you can add a little more because of the effects of the pandemic.
“There is also a clause in their Adidas contract, which means their earnings are cut by 25 percent if they don’t qualify, which is worth another £ 20 million ($ 26 million).”
The stakes are certainly high for United, which is purely in terms of turnover. While an extra £ 100m would undoubtedly boost the balance sheet, the club’s bank accounts are still healthy despite the pandemic.
However, missing the Champions League would have a negative impact on summer transfer activities.
Although executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has already warned that this summer will not be “business as usual” due to the economic crisis caused by the corona virus, United is in a stronger financial position than many other clubs and is expected to be active when the window will open. But it will be harder to get their top transfers without the temptation of Champions League football.
Still one of the Red Devils’ top priorities, Jadon Sancho wants to continue competing in the world’s most important club competition. Trying to convince the 20-year-old winger to move to Old Trafford to play in the Europa League wouldn’t be easy.
A midfielder, center-back and striker are also on Solskjaer’s summer wish list and qualifying would make it easier to attract the top talent the club needs to take the title next season.
Of course, even if it doesn’t finish in the top four, United can still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League.
However, this year’s final is only on August 21, just three weeks before the start of the new Premier League season, which was confirmed on September 12. So, not beating Leicester on Sunday would stop United trying to recruit players as soon as possible.
Solskjaer is confident that his team has enough in the tank to go to Leicester and get the result it is desperately looking for, but the performance in the last four games suggests it will be a close affair, especially since his favorite starting XI feels the effects of a long season.
They’ve missed penetration, pace and precision in recent weeks and despite Leicester’s poor form since the restart (just two wins in eight games), United knows it will need to improve its game if it is to secure that lucrative £ 100m prize.