Manchester United squares off against Chelsea Thursday in the penultimate game of the season for both clubs. It has been a season to forget for first-year owner Todd Boehly and Chelsea, which currently sits in 12th after finishing worse than sixth place only once since 1995-96. United only needs a draw versus Chelsea to lock in a top four finish and UEFA Champions League qualification.
A berth in Champions League used to be an inalienable right for Manchester United as it participated in 18 straight tournaments through 2013-14. Yet, the rise of other Premier League clubs has pushed United out of the Champions League mix in four of the nine years since then, including the 2022-23 competition, which pits Manchester City versus Inter Milan in next month’s final. On Saturday, Man City clinched its third straight EPL crown.
Manchester United ranked atop Sportico’s look at the world’s most valuable soccer clubs at $5.95 billion, and it is nearing the end of a drawn-out sale process, with a decision expected after the end of the EPL season. A Champions League berth would boost the coffers for new ownership for the 2023-24 season.
UEFA doles out more than $2 billion to participants in Champions League. Last year’s winner, Real Madrid, earned €134 million ($146 million) in total distributions, while Man United earned €78 million ($85 million) simply by making the round of 16 where it lost to Atlético Madrid.
United highlights Champions League qualification as a risk factor in its financial filings, calling it a “material reduction in revenue for each season in which our men’s first team did not participate.” The club’s massive 10-year, €750 million deal with Adidas would also be impacted. The contract calls for a 30% reduction in the annual payment for any year that represents a second consecutive season outside of Champions League.
United and other top Premier League clubs will get a touch more breathing room on Champions League qualification starting with the 2024-25 competition. Five EPL clubs should be eligible most years when the field expands from 32 to 36. But the change arrives as Newcastle United looks to establish itself as part of the relegation-proof clubs known as the Big Six.
United is currently three points ahead of Liverpool in the EPL standings after a 1-0 win over Bournemouth last weekend, while Liverpool drew with Aston Villa. If Chelsea beats United, the final EPL standings will come down to Sunday. In the case of a tie for fourth place, United would fall short on the first tiebreaker of goal differential, with Liverpool 17 goals ahead.