United face difficult trips to both Germany and Ukraine in David Moyes’ debut Champions League campaign…
|FC Shakhtar Donetsk||0||0|
|Manchester United FC||0||0|
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||0||0|
|Real Sociedad de Fútbol||0||0|
Manchester United fixtures:
September 17, Man United v Leverkusen
October 2, Shakhtar v Man United
October 23, Man United v Real Sociedad
November 5, Real Sociedad v Man United
November 27, Leverkusen v Man United
December 12, Man United v Shakhtar
The Ukrainian champions have been a notoriously difficult opponent for any Champions League side over the past few seasons. Usually jam packed full of talented Brazilians, Shakhtar will be without Fernandinho and Willian who started last season’s European campaign. The Ukrainians made over £60m by selling the pair, but will undoubtedly be weaker in their absence. They also sold Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Borussia Dortmund, but did bring in prodigal Brazilian pair Bernard and Fred for big money. Regardless of the star players leaving, travelling to Ukraine will be a mammoth task for any club this season, including United. Shakhtar went out in the second round last term, qualifying from a group that included Chelsea. They will be determined to improve on that this time around…
The German outfit have started the Bundesliga season in fine form, sitting in third place after four wins from their opening five matches. Ultra-talented South Korean Heung-Min Son joined in the summer, and has hit the ground running – although Leverkusen are now without Andre Schurrle who joined Chelsea and Daniel Carvajal who joined Real Madrid. In Stefan Kiebling, they have a striker capable of finishing most chances presented to him. He bagged 27 in all competitions last year, and has started this season on fire – scoring six already. On top of this, in Sven bender, they have a midfield dynamo capable of taking a match by the scruff of its neck. Like with Shakhtar, Leverkusen will provide a serious threat.
The surprise outfit from La Liga last season, Sociedad have their work cut out in a group full of European pedigree. Sociedad parted with their best player in the summer, selling Asier Illarramendi to Real Madrid for £26m, which will make this season’s task all the more difficult. Esteban Granero arrived from QPR to replace him, but only £2m of the Illarramendi fee was reinvested in the squad, with Haris Seferovic arriving from Fiorentina. The 21-year-old Swiss international scored a wondergoal in Sociedad’s play-off victory over Lyon which got them into the group stages – and they might need more moments of magic if they have any genuine hopes of progressing. Sociedad have five points from four La Liga matches this season, and would see anything they pick up in the Champions League as a bonus.
United, on paper, are easily the best team in the group, but all three opponents definitely have the ability to cause the Premier League champions problems.
It’s David Moyes’ first full Champions League campaign, and he can expect a particularly tough second game when his side travel to Ukraine for the Donetsk match.
Winning their opener at home to Leverkusen will be key, and will set down a marker in Group A. It also will mean they will be happy to leave Ukraine with a point in their second match, before taking on Real Sociedad at home in their third match – which on paper, is their easiest tie in the group.
If United can pick up these seven points from the first three matches, they have more than enough experience to see out the remaining fixtures and pick up the necessary points. Players like Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick won the Champions League back in 2008 – and will know exactly what’s required of them this time around.
Again though, their first match really is the key. If they lose to Leverkusen, they then face the horrible trip to Donetsk knowing they need to win to salvage their chances of progression.
Prediction: 1st in the group, with Leverkusen pipping Shakhtar to second.