Who Manchester United could draw in Champions League qualifying stage
By the virtue of finishing 4th last season, Manchester United have the chance to return to Champions League football but first they must negotiate through the tricky terrain of the qualifying phase. The English giants are among the 5 seeded teams in qualifying along with Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Sporting Lisbon. They will be drawn against 5 unseeded teams consisting of – Club Brugge, CSKA Moscow, Lazio, Monaco or Rapid Vienna to compete for a place in the group stage.
United were in contention for a place as high as 2nd last season but failed to make it into the top three which would mean automatic qualification to the group stages. Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City occupy those three coveted spots leaving the 13-time EPL winners to battle for their place in the Champions League.
The Reds of Manchester are placed in the Non-Champions qualifying section and hence will face tougher opposition in terms of unseeded teams. The draw will take place on August 7, 2015 at 3.30pm IST. Once the draw is completed, the sides will play their matches over two legs on 18/19 and 25/26 August.
The ones United will hope to avoid
Of the 5 teams in the draw, Louis van Gaal will hope to avoid the most obviously dangerous ones. Monaco is the name that stands out, as Arsenal learnt the hard way in the 2014-15 Champions League campaign.
The French side inflicted defeat over the London club ousting them from the competition. Since then they have lost one of their most influential players from that two-legged tie – Geoffrey Kondogbia. Nonetheless, they are not a side to be underestimated and will pose some serious competition to United.
Another team to watch will be Lazio. They finished third in the Serie A behind champions Juventus and runners-up Roma. They have the potential to upset any hopes United have of making the group stages backed by a strong squad boasting the likes of their top goalscorer last season Miroslav Klose, Lucas Biglia and Stefano Mauri in midfield and Stefan De Vrij at the back. In addition to that, this is the first time since 2007/08 that Lazio have the chance to play in the UCL and they are not likely to give that up easily.
While none of Club Brugge, CSKA Moscow, or Rapid Vienna are particularly easy opponents to face, Van Gaal may be keen to avoid the Moscow side as it would involve a considerable amount of travel in the away leg. Moreover, Russia is not a particularly easy place to play for any team much less a crunch tie bang in the middle of the season.
Another factor for the Old Trafford side to consider is the matches they will be playing before, after, and between the two legs of the qualifying tie. United travel to Villa Park on August 15 just a few days ahead of when they will go into the first leg of the qualifying clash. Given that Aston Villa have strengthened this summer after having a near relegation experience last time around, it will be no easy feat.
Between the two legs, United host Newcastle, who under new management will be unpredictable and threaten to play with pace and power led by Georginio Wijnaldum in attack. After their second leg, they will travel to face Swansea City who have been shaping up well under Garry Monk and will put up a fight, not to forget they beat United on opening day last campaign.
All in all, not calm waters to navigate for Van Gaal and co but they will be favourites to go through to the group stages no matter what opposition they will face.