Watford's loss eases United's agony

LONDON • Manchester United's season ended on the lowest possible note, with their failure to qualify for the Champions League and no silverware to show for, and they could have started next term just as chaotically.

That was the nightmare facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer if Watford had beaten Manchester City in the FA Cup final on Saturday, which would have resulted in his side entering the Europa League second qualifying round on July 25.

It would have thrown their pre-season plans, including the International Champions Cup (ICC) Singapore event at the National Stadium, into disarray, with United set to play Inter Milan on July 20.

But City did their cross-town rivals a favour by thrashing the Hornets 6-0 at Wembley, ensuring that seventh-placed Wolves will now go into the second qualifying stage, with United, who finished sixth in the Premier League, booking their group-stage berth.

Nuno Espirito Santo's players will be playing in Europe for the first time since 1980.

This season's Europa League final will be between Arsenal and Chelsea on May 29 in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the winner guaranteed Champions League football.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan Football Association general secretary Elkhan Mammadov has promised that "there will not be any problem for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to travel to Baku".

Speculation remains rife that Arsenal will have to leave the forward, who is also Armenia's captain, behind in London.

There have been no diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Mkhitaryan missed Arsenal's Europa League group game against Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag last October over safety fears.

Armenian citizens are currently barred from entering Azerbaijan. Exceptions have been made for certain athletes, but none have had the same profile as Mkhitaryan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2019, with the headline 'Watford's loss eases United's agony'. Print Edition | Subscribe