Friday, 25 August 2017

United to face familiar foes in the Champions League

United's return to the Champions League saw them pitted into Group A alongside Benfica, FC Basel and CSKA Moscow.

Absent from the competition last season, Europa League winners United have avoided all of European football's powerhouses and been handed a relatively kind draw. 

The Reds could have been paired with heavyweights Bayern Munich, Juventus or Real Madrid from Pot One, and difficult ties with Roma, Napoli and Besiktas from Pot Three. 

Our satisfaction at one of the more appealing groups, however, will be mitigated by the memory of 2011 when we drew both the Portuguese champions and Basel but could only finish third. 

Added to the prospect of an always difficult trip to Moscow and these are a series of fixtures that will require full focus with the opposition not to be underestimated. 

Top seeds Benfica - the club's opponents on that famous Wembley night in 1968 - sold defender Victor Lindelof to United in the summer.

Fellow new signing Nemanja Matic also plied his trade for the Lisbon giants whilst for boss Jose Mourinho, it's a return to the club where he began his managerial career in 2000 (having previously served as assistant).

Benfica won their domestic league - a 36th Portuguese title - by six points last season and have two European trophies to their name during an era of glittering success back in the 60s.

Swiss champions Basel beat Sir Alex's United during that ill-fated 2011-12 campaign, knocking us out of the competition, and the Reds have won only one of four previous encounters with Raphael Wicky's side. 

Last time we met them, the Reds needed a late leveller from Ashley Young to rescue a point in a six-goal thriller at Old Trafford.
Basel then pulled off a stunning upset win in Switzerland to progress to the knockouts at our expense and condemn United to a rare foray into the Europa League. 

Moscow will always hold a special place in the heart of any United fan, and the team will return to the Russian capital to face Pot Four opponents CSKA. 

They finished second in the Russian league last season, seven points behind fierce rivals Spartak, but Viktor Goncharenko's side will provide United with a stern test.

The long journey, tough winter conditions and a 'hybrid' artificial pitch all present their own unique challenges, with that tie to be played on Matchday Two (27 September).

A group not to be taken for granted, but it would be a major surprise if Jose does not take the team back into the knockout stages for the first time since 2014.

United's Champions League fixtures: Basel H Sept 12
CSKA Moscow A Sept 27
Benfica A Oct 18
Benfica H Oct 31
Basel A Nov 22
CSKA Moscow H Dec 5 














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