Man Utd handed huge hope in Champions League race amid fifth-placed boost

Manchester United have climbed into contention for a Champions League spot since the turn of the year.

Manchester United have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying for next season's Champions League and received another boost on Thursday evening, following the conclusion of Europa League and Europa Conference League action.

Erik ten Hag's side were drifting away from the top-four conversation over the festive period but a run of four straight Premier League wins has seen them pull within touching distance of Tottenham and Aston Villa. As it stands, those three teams will be fighting for one spot but it could be two by the end of the campaign due to the tournament's expansion.

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From next season, the Champions League will adopt a new format and contain 36 teams, upgraded from the usual 32. Two of those extra places will be earned through play-off rounds but two will be given to the best-performing nations across Europe this season, via UEFA's coefficient ranking.

In simple terms, nations win coefficient points when their teams perform well in Europe and the two countries that top the table come May will be handed that extra spot. England are currently behind Italy and Germany in the rankings but were boosted by the unexpected elimination of Eintracht Frankfurt by Belgian outfit Union Saint-Gilloise.

Germany appear to be the nation that England has the best chance of catching and so seeing one of their rivals' teams eliminated will work in the Premier League's favour. Furthermore, Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund all failed to win the first-leg of their respective Champions League last-16 ties, putting them in a precarious position.

United did little to help themselves by finishing bottom of Group A before Christmas but there are still six Premier League teams in Europe with several tipped to go far. Manchester City are favourites to win the Champions League for a second straight year, while Arsenal are expected to turn around a 1-0 deficit at home to FC Porto.

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Liverpool, West Ham and Brighton will fancy their chances against Sparta Prague, Freiburg and Roma respectively in the Europa League, while Aston Villa are up against a struggling Ajax outfit in the Europa Conference League. Progression for the majority should put England in a strong position to usurp Germany for that extra spot, therefore massively improving United's chances of qualifying for next season.