Manchester United have qualified for next season’s Champions League with a game to spare, after beating Chelsea 4-1 at Old Trafford on Thursday night.
Erik ten Hag’s men are now guaranteed to finish at least fourth in the Premier League and can therefore look forward to joining Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle United in Europe’s elite club competition in the 2023/24 season.
Casemiro headed in the opener before Anthony Martial doubled the lead in first-half stoppage time. More goals followed, through Bruno Fernandes’s penalty and Marcus Rashford’s 30th of the season, before a consolation effort from Joao Felix.
It means United move into third spot in the table, two points ahead of Newcastle, with one game still to play.
Read on to learn everything we know so far about next season’s competition…
WHEN IS THE GROUP-STAGE DRAW?
United fans will discover our first set of Champions League opponents for next term when the group-stage draw is made on Thursday August 31, following the final round of play-off ties on 29 and 30 August.
The draw will see eight sides seeded into four different pots, and each group will be drawn to contain one side from pots one, two, three and four. Pot one contains domestic title winners from various leagues across Europe and will also include the sides crowned champions of this season’s Champions League and Europa League. Based on our UEFA co-efficient ranking, United will be seeded in pot two of the group-stage draw.
Eighteen sides have booked their place in next season’s competition so far, and we can count Barcelona and Napoli – both of whom will be in pot one, as La Liga and Serie A champions, respectively – as potential opponents from pots one next term. Manchester City will also be in pot one but UEFA rules dictate that teams from the same league cannot face each other until the quarter-final stage of the competition.
WHEN DOES THE GROUP STAGE START?
The first round of group-stage matches will take place on 19 and 20 September later this year. Though United were absent from the competition this season, Europa League group matches were played in the same gameweeks as the Champions League equivalent.
After a truncated group-stage campaign this term – which was enforced to accommodate the winter World Cup – the group-stage format will again mirror its previous iterations next term.
The final round of group matches will be played on 12 and 13 December – more than a month later than the same round of matches was played earlier in the campaign, such has been the challenging fixture congestion this term.
THE LAST 32-TEAM TOURNAMENT
Next season’s Champions League will be the last time that the competition is played in a 32-team format.
It therefore means that the 2023/24 campaign will present a final opportunity to contest a six-match group stage where we play each of our opponents twice; once home and once away.
That’s because, from the 2024/25 season onwards, the tournament will increase to accommodate 36 teams. As a result, the group format will be changed, to see teams instead play eight matches in the group phase, against eight different opponents.
Both United and Erik ten Hag are poised for their first taste of action in this competition since the 2021/22 season. The Reds and our manager, then in charge of Ajax, exited the competition at the round of 16 stage that campaign, as we were beaten by Atletico Madrid and the Dutch outfit were undone by Benfica.
The manager oversaw four consecutive seasons of Champions League football with the famed Eredivise side, and it was the first of those campaigns that proved most successful.
Erik led Ajax to the Champions League semi-finals in the 2018/19 season with a certain Donny van de Beek at the heart of his side, overcoming Real Madrid and Juventus in style in the knockout rounds.
They were just minutes away from reaching that season’s final, until Tottenham Hotspur scored a last-ditch winner in the semi-final second-leg, ensuring Spurs advanced on the now defunct away-goals rule.
Our superb record at Old Trafford has been key to achieving a top-four finish.
ROAD TO WEMBLEY
The showpiece will be played on Saturday 1 June 2024 in the capital, as Wembley is set to host its first Champions League final since 2013, when Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund.
Two years previously, United were involved at the same ground, when Barcelona ran out 3-1 winners over Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in May 2011.
United have of course played at Wembley twice already under Ten Hag’s stewardship – winning February’s Carabao Cup final against Newcastle, before advancing from the FA Cup semi-finals against Brighton & Hove Albion last month.
Another Wembley date is in the diary almost exactly a year before next season’s Champions League final, as we are set to take on Manchester City in the FA Cup final on 3 June.