Man Utd handed potential Champions League boost as race for extra spots hots up

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Manchester United have been handed a potential boost in their bid to qualify for the Champions League.

Manchester United have been handed a potential boost in their bid to land Champions League football for next season. Erik ten Hag's men have enjoyed a relatively-strong second half of the season, clawing their way back into the top four race, or at least the periphery of it.

United are currently in sixth place and eight points off the top four, and while they are unlikely to catch Aston Villa, they will give themselves half a chance if they can be ultra-consistent between now and the end of the season. Fortunately, there may be another way into the Champions League for United.

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The new Champions League format begins next season, and there are four extra places up for grabs as part of the changes. Two will go to the qualifying rounds, which the Red Devils are not eligible to, but the other two will be handed to the two best-performing leagues in Europe from this season.

That means that if England are one of the two best performing nations in Europe, fifth place will become a Champions League spot, with sixth and seventh Europa League spots and eight a Conference League berth. As things stand, England are not one of those nations, however, not helped by the fact United and Newcastle United crashed out of Europe in the Champions League group stages.

Points are awarded for progressing through each stage of European competition, with all three competitions equal from the quarter-finals on. The points are then added up for each nation and divided by the number of clubs entered into European competition that season which, in England's case, is seven.

As things stand, Italy lead the way with 16.571, while Germany are second with 15.5. England are currently third with 15.0, and Arsenal added to that total on Tuesday night with a penalty shootout win over FC Porto. Meanwhile, in a potential boost to United's European hopes, Napoli suffered defeat to Barcelona, meaning Italy lose a club from Europe.

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Spain in fifth currently have 13.812 points, and while Barcelona's progression is a boost for them, they have lost Real Sociedad during the Champions League Round of 16, while Villarreal look set to crash out of the Europa League after a 4-0 first leg defeat to Marseille. Marseille's win could help France pull away from Spain, currently in fourth and on 14.416 points.

The bad news for England is that Brighton look set to depart the Europa League after losing their first leg 4-0 to AS Roma, and Italy will get another point there providing a second leg upset. Meanwhile, Aston Villa still have work to do to progress through the Conference League, drawing with Ajax in their first leg. Liverpool are all but through and will add to England's total after winning 5-1 in their first leg in the Europa League.

Crucially, though, United would still need to finish in fifth spot to benefit from any extra place, and they are currently six points behind Tottenham, with the London club also having a game in hand.

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