Sheffield United's European hopes dealt blow by Manchester City verdict

Sheffield United will have to finish sixth in this season's Premier League to guarantee the club's first European campaign, but seventh may be enough.

AMBITIONS: Sheffield United are aiming to qualify for Europe for the first time in their history

On Monday, Manchester City successfully overturned their two-year ban from continental competitions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), meaning they will be able to take part in next season's Champions League after all.

In February UEFA found City found guilty of “serious breaches” of their financial regulations, but after considering their appeal, CAS have decided the Manchester club did not disguise equity funding as sponsorship, but did fail to co-operate with UEFA over the matter. As a result, their suspension from playing in European club competitions has been lifted and their fine has been reduced to 10m euros.

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"Whilst Manchester City and its legal advisors are yet to review the full ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the club welcomes the implications of today’s ruling as a validation of the cub’s position and the body of evidence that it was able to present. The club wishes to thank the panel members for their diligence and the due process that they administered," read a very brief City statement.

UEFA commented that: "the CAS panel found that there was insufficient conclusive evidence to uphold all of the CFCB (Club Financial Control Body)’s conclusions in this specific case and that many of the alleged breaches were time-barred due to the five-year time period foreseen in the UEFA regulations."

The decision brings greater clarity on what Sheffield United must do to play in next season's Europa League – but only to a degree.

With three matches to play, the Blades are seventh in the Premier League, a point behind sixth-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Blades are at fourth-placed Leicester City on Thursday, and finish their campaign against Everton (home) and Southampton (away).

Four English sides automatically qualify for Europe's blue-riband cup competition, plus three for the Europa League places. The Champions League places are decided on league positions, while the Europa League slots nominally go to the next highest-placed league side, the FA Cup winners and League Cup winners.

But as City won the League Cup in February, that place will go to the side finishing seventh unless Arsenal win the FA Cup from a lower position. They are the outsiders in the competition, needing to beat City in the semi-finals, then Chelsea or Manchester United in the final.

If Manchester United or Wolves win the Europa League - or far less likely Chelsea overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit to Bayern Munich and win the European Cup but do not finish in the top four - they will qualify for the Champions League as a fifth English representative. But the maximum number of teams the Premier League can have in European competition is restricted to seven, so it would just mean one fewer in the Europa League.

The Red Devils hold a 3-0 aggregate lead from the away leg of their last-16 tie against LASK. Wolves drew 1-1 at Olympiacos in their first leg. Should they progress, the sides are due to meet in the semi-finals.

The competition is due to be completed after the Premier League campaign in August, with ties from the quarter-finals onwards being played on a one-off basis in Germany.

This is Sheffield United's first Premier League season since 2007, and to qualify for Europe would be remarkable. Wolves did the same last year, but their playing budget is incomparable.

The financial benefits are not huge for English clubs, whose domestic television deals are the biggest in world football, but it would bring great prestige and make attracting players much easier. It would also mean a regular diet of Thursday-night fixtures which Premier League clubs without a Champions League pedigree often struggle with, but Wolves have shown this season it is possible to compete on two fronts even with a small squad.

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