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Analysing Manchester United's UEFA Champions League group stage opponents

Anirudh Menon
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
2.17K   //    12 Sep 2017, 13:29 IST

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League
Will Jose Mourinho guide his team safely through the first obstacle?

Manchester United have been drawn in Group A against some familiar opponents. Here we analyse each of their strengths, weakness, and chances of progress.


Benfica

Benfica have lost their first-choice goalkeeper Ederson to Manchester City, their first-choice right back Nelson Semedo to Barcelona, their first-choice forward Kostas Mitroglou to Marseille and their first-choice centre-back to Group A opponents Manchester United... and they'll still look at their accounts statements, admire their profits and get on with dominating the Portuguese league.

To write them off would be foolhardy - typically canny transfer-ins have made sure the team isn't depleted by the talent drain of this summer. Bruno Varela looks like he'll step into Ederson's record-breaking shoes comfortably enough while Filip Krovinovic and Gabriel Barbosa are exciting additions. Retaining Pizzi and Alex Grimaldo could also prove vital to the campaign in Europe.

Rui Vitoria's men will be confident of going through.

Strengths: Potent moving forward with Pizzi the rock that holds it all together in the middle of the field.

Weaknesses: New look back-four that will take time to adjust to the rigours of the Champions League

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Look out for Gabigol!

Player to watch out for: Gabriel Barbosa - the Brazilian came to Inter more highly rated than Man City starlet Gabriel Jesus but endured a frustrating spell on the sidelines for the Nerazzurri. Vitoria will be hoping Gabigol's hunger to impress will translate to more goals on the field.

Current standing in the league: 3rd; 4 wins, 1 draw

2016-17 league standing: Champions

2016-17 UEFA Champions League finish: Round of 16, lost to Borussia Dortmund 4-1 on aggregate

Best Champions League/European Cup finish: Winners (1960-61; 1961-62)



Basel

Runaway champions of Switzerland and regulars of the Champions League group stages Basel will hope to replicate the heroics of 2011/12 when they beat an Alex Ferguson-led Manchester United in the group stages (2-1) and stopped them from progressing to the knock-out stages of the competition.

Guess who made it through the group that year at the expense of United? Benfica and Basel.

The Swiss have had to deal with the retirement of club legend Matias Delgado but have strengthened in the summer, adding the on-fire Ricky van Wolfswinkel (a far better striker than his Norwich stint suggested) to lead the line and will be hoping he can come up with the goods in Europe as well (he already has 7 in 7 domestic games).

Raphael Wicky has his work cut in trying to make sure they don't finish rock-bottom.

Strengths: Marshalled by Taulant Xhaka (Granit's brother) and Geoffrey Serey Die,

Weaknesses: A defence that has never been the most concrete in Europe, they have been pretty awful in the opening weeks of the domestic season; they are likely to leak goals aplenty.

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United fans, remember him?

Player to watch out for: Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Mohammed Elyounoussi (attacking midfielder)

Current standing in the league: 3rd; 3 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses

2016-17 league standing: Champions

2016-17 UEFA Champions League finish: Bottom of their group behind Arsenal, PSG and Ludogorets Razgrad

Best Champions League/European Cup finish: Round of 16


CSKA Moscow

Victor Goncharenko leads a far more attack-minded outfit than his predecessor Leonid Slutsky - they started off poorly but are slowly improving as the season wears on. Goncharenko will hope that the improvement is consistent.

Igor Akinfeev has finally kept a clean sheet in Europe - after 11 years of trying - and if that doesn't give the rusty CSKA defence a boost, nothing ever will.

Strengths: In Aleksander Golovin, Alan Dzagoev, and Pontus Wernbloom CSKA have a central midfield trio who - if all things click together - can run the show against any opposition.

Weaknesses: The team is still adapting to the departure of long-time coach Slutsky, and the transition period has caused an otherwise decent defence to look a touch underwhelming

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Dzagoev can be a handful on his day

Player to watch out for: Alan Dzagoev; the mercurial Russian playmaker can win games by his lonesome on his day... on others, you can forget he's even on the pitch. If Goncharenko can squeeze out some form of consistency from Dzagoev, CSKA could aim for the knockout stages

Current standing in the league: 4th; 5 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses

2016-17 standing: Second

2016-17 UEFA Champions League finish: Bottom of their group behind AS Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen, and Tottenham Hotspur

Best Champions League/European Cup finish: Quarterfinals 2009/10

Now that we've analysed the Red Devils' three group stage opponents, here's a quick summation of the favourite's record/current squad strength

Manchester United

Jose Mourinho is looking to bring back the fervour of European nights to Old Trafford and for that progress from this relatively easy-on-paper group is paramount. While finishing second will be considered a disappointment, not going through will be considered an absolute disaster.

Strengths: A strong midfield and a sharp attack

Weaknesses: While the first-choice pairing of Bailly and Jones looks solid enough, their backups Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling did not impress in the preseason, or in the UEFA Super Cup. And left-back is still a concern area.


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Player to watch out for: Paul Pogba. Also, Romelu Lukaku - who will want to make the best impression possible in his maiden appearance at the highest level of club football competition

Current standing in the league: 1st, 3 wins, 1 draw

2016-17 standing: 6th

2016-17 UEFA Champions League finish: DNP, finished Champions of the Europa League

Best Champions League/European Cup finish: Winners (1968, 1999, 2008)

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Anirudh Menon
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Believes Sport makes the world a better place :)
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