Manchester United knew what they had to do on Tuesday night. A draw was the absolute minimum, but a win was what would have been required in the end due to PSV beating CSKA Moscow. Louis Van Gaal's team fell short as they succumbed to a 3-2 defeat, despite a valiant effort. The Red Devils gave it their all against a strong Wolfsburg side, and given the injuries they have had to deal with of late, an away win was always going to be a tough ask.
So United head into the Europa League for the second time in four seasons. Obviously fans won't be happy about being knocked out of Europe's elite competition, but they were never really likely to threaten in the latter stages of the tournament. The Europa League provides them with an opportunity for silverware. Some may see it as a hindrance to their Premier League title challenge, which as things stand is looking fairly strong. Chelsea took the Europa League seriously in 2012-2013 season and went on to win it. It allowed a lot of their players to add a new honour to their list, and picking up a few wins in between league games can only benefit morale in the squad.
Perhaps the biggest reason as to why the Europa League can turn out to be so important for United is that it will give the young players invaluable game time in Europe. A few games in the Europa League will give this squad experience as they prepare for another assault on the Champions League next season. The team is still a young one, with a lot of developing players who haven't really got much European football under their belts. Knockout fixtures require development of the mental aspect of the game as well, and some players will need to work on this to be able to handle different scenarios of a two-legged tie.
The game against Wolfsburg on Tuesday saw Guillermo Varela make his first start for the club; a crucial game to be thrown into due to the injuries to other usual members of the defence. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Nick Powell also came off the bench to try and help United get the result they needed. Not exactly the players you would be hoping to bring on at that point, but nevertheless the aforementioned trio have got great potential for the club. Giving these players a few more games in Europe will do them the world of good and stand them in better stead for the Champions League next time round.
Nick Powell has already had a successful campaign in the Europa League with Wigan Athletic a couple of season ago. When he was on loan at The Latics he scored three goals in six games before they bowed out at the groups stage. An impressive feat considering Wigan were a Championship side at that point. Another few games in this year's competition could allow him to become more of a prominent player for Manchester United.
Furthermore, Anthony Martial hasn't had too much exposure to European football and he will fancy his chances of scoring a few at this level. The 20-year-old played 11 games for Monaco in Europe before joining United, where he went on to score two goals in the group stage, including one against Wolfsburg.
Jesse Lingard, another young forward for the club will be fancying his chances of making his mark on the Europa League also. He has started to develop into a key part of Louis Van Gaal's plans and despite the disappointment of Tuesday, he will be one player relishing the chance to perhaps pick up a piece of major silverware.
What is for certain, is that this competition shouldn't be taken lightly, and the chance to progress should not be wasted. It could prove out to be a very important tournament for the development of a squad which continues to gel together. There will be less pressure in the Europa League, which should allow the players to play with more freedom, and it could be a key starting point to Manchester United's future domestic and European success.