Manchester United scored three late goals in a comeback win against Braga on Wednesday. The win ensured that United have qualified for the knockout stages as winners of Group H, with two games to spare.
The nature of the qualification is in stark contrast to last season, when United failed to make it out of their group for only the third time in 17 years.
Here is a look at what the early qualification means for the rest of the Manchester United season.
In addition, there is also a round of international friendlies scheduled over the next couple of weeks. All of this would have seen players at United having to play two matches a week during the course of the next month.
However, after the Champions League qualification, United realistically have five important fixtures over the next month. Furthermore, there is only one important midweek match—the home fixture against West Ham United.
Thus, Sir Alex Ferguson can now afford to rest players for the remaining Champions League games. United players can now go into the all-important Manchester derby at Eastlands less exhausted and with fewer miles on the clock.
There is also an argument that the ability to rest players isn't just a luxury, but rather a necessity.
[Resting players implies] we can make sure that Ferdinand is fresh for all these games. I won't have to worry about playing him Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday. That's an important issue.
Along with the only fit centre-back pairing of Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, United have been very reliant on Robin van Persie in attack.
With qualification sealed early, Sir Alex can now keep these key, experienced players fresh. This will ensure the likes of Ferdinand, RvP, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick will contribute more to the team. Plus, it reduces the chances of one of them getting injured.
Of course, resting players does not necessarily imply that Manchester United will put out a weak team in the remaining Champions League matches.
One can still expect Sir Alex Ferguson to deploy full internationals like Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Anderson in his teams.
These are all players with relatively less experience in the Champions League. In some sense, they will all have bigger motivation for playing in the remaining two group games as they aim to establish themselves as first-choice players in the future.
Qualifying early allows Sir Alex to play these players in tough European games, and have them gather much-needed experience.
The manager himself identified the lack of experience in his team selections as the reason behind last season's early Champions League exit. The early qualification offers him a way to address that issue without affecting the team's prospects.
Following the early exit from the Carling Cup, the manager may even give some promising academy players the chance to play in these two games, which can only be good for their development.
The Champions League group stages end in early December, and the knockout rounds resume in mid-February.
In short, Manchester United have a three-month gap between now and their next significant European fixture.
During that period, United have a total of 16 Premier League games scheduled. These include potential blockbusters against Manchester City (away), Newcastle United (home), Liverpool (home), Tottenham Hotspur (away) and Everton (home).
For the next three months, United can push all thoughts of European competition aside and concentrate exclusively on the domestic league.
If United can go on a good run in the next 16 games, they could be in a very strong position in the league come February. That possibility, in turn, would give them greater confidence and greater strength in the business end of the Champions League.