Monday 11 September 2017

United set for Champions League return after one season absence

Having missed out on dining at the top European table for two of the last three seasons, United return to action in the Champions League on Tuesday.

As fun and as rewarding as last term's successful Europa League foray proved to be, nothing beats the glitz, glamour, prestige and atmosphere of the continent's elite club competition.

This season's tournament will feature five English sides for the first time, with the Reds set to welcome Swiss champions FC Basel to Old Trafford on Matchday One.

It's our first tie in the competition since December 2015, when United headed to Germany to face Wolfsburg in that do-or-die encounter that would determine our Champions League fate under Louis van Gaal.

A depleted Reds side were beaten 3-2 and crashed out of a group that also contained PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow.

United finished third in the section in a painful European campaign that would end with an unpalatable Europa League KO by Liverpool in the last 16.

The Reds find themselves in a similarly favourable group this time around - with Benfica and CSKA Moscow alongside Basel - and it would again be a major surprise if Jose fails to negotiate safe passage through the group and into the knockouts. 

Any satisfaction at another reasonable draw, however, will be mitigated by the memory of the 2011-12 season, when we again faced Basel and Benfica at this stage but could only finish third.

United have made a brilliant start domestically - checked only by Stoke at the weekend - leading many to tip us to make serious inroads on some of Europe's big name heavyweights in this season's tournament.
It's a belief enhanced by the boss's superb record in the competition, having won it twice during his trophy-laden career (with Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010).

But, as we saw against Real Madrid in the Super Cup back in August, the Reds have a lot of work to do to be put in the same bracket as Bayern, Bayern and the two-time defending champions.

However, Jose - looking to become the first man to win the Champions League three times with three different clubs - has played down expectations with the more realistic target of a last 26 place. 

A club the size and stature of United naturally belong in this competition, and what better way to return to it than running out under the lights into a fervent OT atmosphere...

Bring it On!! 

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