Can Manchester United still finish first in their Europa League group?

Manchester United beat Sheriff on Thursday night but they are still second in their Europa League group.

Real Sociedad overcame Omonia 2-0 away from home at the same time, meaning they are three points ahead of United.

The two sides meet in the last game of Group E, and The Athletic has taken a look at the situation ahead of that match in Spain.

Manchester United team line up, back row, left to right, David de Gea, Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Casemiro, Cristiano Ronaldo. Front row, left to right, Lisandro Martinez, Antony, Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen, Alejandro Garnacho and Bruno Fernandes before the UEFA Europa League Group E match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Thursday October 27, 2022. (Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

Have Manchester United qualified for the knockout stages?

Yes. They are nine points ahead of Sheriff, who are in third place.

Both United and Real Sociedad, who are 12 points ahead of the third-placed side, are into the next stage of the competition.

Can United still finish first in Group E?

They can, but it will be difficult for Erik ten Hag’s side. Real Sociedad beat them at Old Trafford in the opening game of Group E on September 8.

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However, they only won that game 1-0. And if United win next week in San Sebastian, they will be on level points with Sociedad.

European competitions are decided, when teams are on equal points, by head-to-head record. If two teams have the same head-to-head record and finish on level points, it then goes to which team had the better aggregate score.

So if United beat Sociedad by multiple goals next week, they will leapfrog them into first and go straight to the last 16, rather than the knockout round play-offs.

What if United only win 1-0?

This is why it is tougher for United. If both teams have equal head-to-head records and aggregate scores, the placing in the league table is decided by overall goal difference.

A 1-0 win would put United on 10 goals for and three against. Sociedad would be on 10 goals for and two against.

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As a result, Sociedad would go through in top spot with United in second.

Why would United want to avoid finishing second?

Essentially, teams get a bye through a round of the competition if they finish first.

Not only that, but half of the teams in that round can be particularly dangerous.

The Europa League knockout round play-offs involve the eight runners-up from the Europa League groups and the other eight places go to the third-placed teams from the Champions League group stage.

As it stands, that would include Barcelona. Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Juventus are all also currently in third position in their groups.

The team that finishes top of the group goes straight to the round of 16.

What is Arsenal’s state of play?

Arsenal are top of Group A on 12 points, two points ahead of second-placed PSV Eindhoven.

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After their 2-0 defeat to PSV, however, Arsenal must beat Zurich in their final group game next Thursday at the Emirates Stadium to guarantee a place in the last 16 of the Europa League. This is because they have an inferior head-to-head record against the Eredivisie side following their loss on Thursday night, having won the reverse fixture 1-0.

If Arsenal fail to win next week and PSV beat Bodo/Glimt, they will come second in Group A.

Mikel Arteta said, after losing to PSV: “We never had a plan to have a day off because we know how difficult it is to win in Euros.“But we are still in a really good position. We’ve won four games and now we have to finish it in a week’s time. We have to prepare for that.”

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