Reaching the Europa League was not the intent for Manchester United heading into this campaign but that's the only sliver of hope England's most storied club have for continental football before another offseason of uncertainty as they close their poorest Premier League campaign Sunday at Southampton.
Manchester United (19-6-12) have never finished with fewer than 75 points until this year and their odds of reaching the Europa League are slim since they must win Sunday and have Tottenham Hotspur lose at home to Aston Villa.
Any possibility of playing football on Thursday night was not a preseason ambition, with the champions expected to contend for a record 21st domestic title. That challenge never materialized under David Moyes, and former Bayern Munich boss Louis van Gaal will reportedly take over the reigns as the permanent successor to Sir Alex Ferguson.
Van Gaal has told Dutch media that he hasn't made a decision about his future. Sunday will mark Ryan Giggs' last day as manager before the Red Devils eventually decide on a new manager again.
"Listen, this club moves forward all the time and we are always trying to bring players through, groom players and develop them," midfielder Michael Carrick told Manchester United's official website. "You could say this is the start of something else because there are going to be changes between now and next season.
"How much change, we will have to wait and see, but it is about getting strong, improving and coming back next year to fight on all fronts again. That is certainly what the aim is and we shouldn't be aiming for anything less."
Southampton, meanwhile, have achieved their highest points haul in a Premier League season. The Saints (15-10-12) will finish in eighth place, and are just eight points and one place back of United.
Boss Mauricio Pochettino's side have not conceded a goal in 295 minutes. Artur Boruc posted his third straight clean sheet in last Saturday's 1-0 victory at Swansea City.
England striker Rickie Lambert scored a fortuitous goal in the third minute of injury time. He became the first goal scorer for the Saints in 413 minutes since Southampton had just two own goals to their credit in that span.
"I thought that overall, even though we left it late to get the victory, we played very well with great intensity," Pochettino told Southampton's official website. "We managed many phases of the game and in the end we got the deserved reward."
Incredibly, a victory for United would give them 36 points on their travels which would mark the highest total in the Premier League.
That fact speaks to their struggles at Old Trafford, although they saw off Hull City 3-1 on Tuesday there. Teenage striker James Wilson scored twice in his senior debut, substitute Robin van Persie added the third and Giggs also handed 20-year-old forward Tom Lawrence a debut.
United last failed to qualify for Europe in 1990.