Manchester United have had a horrendous season under Ralf Rangnick. But the German can leave a parting gift for successor Erik ten Hag if the club end up playing in the Europa League. Should they lose at Selhurst Park, the humiliation of strutting their stuff in the UEFA Conference League would potentially await.
At the start of the season, many were tipping Manchester United to challenge for the Premier League title.
After blockbuster deals for Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane were completed, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally appeared to have assembled a squad capable of competing with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City for the biggest trophies.
The Hollywood homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo was then the icing on top of the cake, with the Portugal international returning from Juventus after 12 years away.
Yet, ever since, things have unravelled.
With just one match left to play, United find themselves having the prospect of either Europa League or UEFA Conference League football next term.
If they beat Palace, they’ll be playing in the former. That would, just about, represent some solace amid the darkness surrounding the club.
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But if they lose, and West Ham beat Brighton, then playing in Europe’s third-tier competition would await.
You need to only look at Tottenham in the competition earlier this season to know that would be a catastrophe.
Not only would United find their Thursday nights occupied with virtually meaningless matches, it would also see them miss out on £5million too.
That’s on top of the money they’ve lost by failing to qualify for the Champions League.
It would be utter humiliation to see United playing on such a stage given the years of success they had under Sir Alex Ferguson.
And it would also be a damning indictment of just how much work Ten Hag will have to do when he takes charge at the end of the season.
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United are currently sixth, having won just 16 of their 37 Premier League matches so far.
Rangnick was brought in to steady the ship in December but, since his appointment, things have only got worse.
Ending their season on a high, however, can at least give the 63-year-old and the rest of the club reason to be optimistic.
United have ended up in the Europa League more times than ever before since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
They won the tournament under Jose Mourinho in 2017, beating Ajax in the final courtesy of goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
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United then made the semis under Solskjaer in 2020, when they were dumped out by Sevilla.
And they also made the final last year, only to end up losing on penalties to Villarreal.
These days, United are no longer a Champions League team.
They were fortunate to make the last-16 of the competition this year, often relying on Ronaldo to dig them out of a hole.
So perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that United and their squad of talented misfits won’t be playing on that stage next year.
Ten Hag, meanwhile, was asked about United’s failure to qualify for the Champions League over the weekend.
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And he described it as ‘painful’, saying: “Painful for United, but also for me.
“It’s a competition I’m gonna miss incredibly. But working in the Premier League makes up for a lot.”
On his decision to start work early at United, and not attend Ajax’s upcoming team party, he then added: “Because we have agreed that I will be employed by United from May 16.
“There are still a few things that need to be done in preparation for the season.
“Among other things, with regard to the content of the staff and the composition of the selection.
“I will leave my mark and I have to do it very carefully.”