MANCHESTER: A ruling in a Swiss court and the concession of a late, late goal ensured the Champions League qualification places remain tantalisingly out of reach for Manchester United in the English Premier League.
United missed a chance to climb back into the top four of the league for the first time since September when Southampton substitute Michael Obafemi scored in the sixth minute of stoppage time to secure a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on Monday.
It was the latest twist in a turbulent race for Champions League qualification, coming on the day second-placed Manchester City overturned its two-year ban from European competition at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
That means a finish in the top four is required to get into next season’s Champion League, rather than in the top five.
United, unbeaten in 18 games in all competitions, were poised to move up to third after Anthony Martial’s 23rd minute strike had put them 2-1 ahead. They had fallen behind to an early Stuart Armstrong goal before Marcus Rashford equalised.
Obafemi’s dramatic close-range strike at a corner kept United in fifth place on 59 points. Leicester City are fourth, ahead of United on goal difference, with Chelsea third on 60 points. City and title winners Liverpool have already secured Champions League places for next season.
On the final day of the season, Leicester host United at King Power Stadium in what could be a highly lucrative, winner-takes-all match.
“You just have to be strong and take it,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said of the gut-punch that denied his team a fifth straight victory. “Because we have won so many games like that ourselves. We probably didn’t deserve three points today.”
Southampton took a shock lead in the 12th minute when Paul Pogba was robbed by Danny Ings just outside the area and Nathan Redmond’s cross found Armstrong at the back post where the Scottish midfielder slotted home.
Two goals from United in a three-minute span turned things around, with Martial setting up Marcus Rashford’s low strike into the corner for the 20th-minute equaliser before scoring himself by cutting inside from the left and firing home a rising shot for his 50th Premier League goal.
United never got going in the same fashion after the break and they were caught out when Obafemi turned in a poorly defended corner at the back post. James Ward-Prowse’s in-swinger was flicked on by Jan Bednarek and Obafemi got in front of Victor Lindelof to find the decisive touch.
Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2020