Wednesday, 6 December 2017

United through to last 16 as Group A winners

United sealed our place in the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in four years as group winners. The Reds navigated what looked, on paper at least, one of the kindest groups to top the section with five wins out of six - the only little wobble came in Basel on Matchday Five.

The last time we got to the knockout stages of Europe's elite competition came back in the David Moyes season of 2013/14 when we came from 2-0 down to knock out Olympiakos. That paved the way for a quarter-final with defending champions Bayern Munich and we went down 4-2 on aggregate despite a brave and valiant effort (we won't mention 2015/16)...

By a strange quirk of fate, and despite our status as group winners, we could be paired with the German giants this time around, after they could only finish as runners-up in their group behind PSG with Celtic demoted to the Europa League despite defeat to Anderlecht in their final match. 
Having returned to the prestigious surroundings of the Champions League - back where we belong - after we won the second-tier Europa League, United have been impressive with 15 points from a possible 18, scoring 12 goals and conceding three. Basel will join the Reds in the pot after they beat Benfica in the final game to pip CSKA, and the Russians will drop into the Europa League. The competition steps up a notch from here on, though, and there are tougher tests against some of the biggest European powerhouses potentially lying in wait for us. 

Winning your group is seen as important as it generally means you avoid one of the heavyweight sides in the first knockout rounds, but that doesn't ring true this time around. As well as Bayern, other possible opponents for the Reds include the ten-time winners and current holders Real Madrid (who have won the tournament in three of the last four seasons), along with Paul Pogba's former side Juventus. 

We could also face Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk or FC Porto. 

Teams from the same country cannot face each other at this stage, meaning we won't be up against divisional rivals Chelsea, who were second behind Roma. Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid - finalists in two of the last four seasons - failed to get out of Chelsea's section, with free-scoring and title-chasing Napoli also a high profile casualty of the group stage.  

The other English sides in the draw - Spurs, City and Liverpool, all went through as group leaders. The draw will be held in Nyon, Switzerland, at 11am on Monday. 

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