Having won the Europa League in Stockholm United have qualified to compete in this year’s Champions League and have been drawn in Group A where they will face FC Basel, SL Benfica and CSKA Moscow. The first of their list of fixtures is a home game against FC Basel on Tuesday 12th September with the final game in early December also in Manchester against CSKA Moscow.
Of these teams Benfica were placed in the highest seeded pot at the draw with United in the second pot. Looking at the UEFA rankings of each club based on the UEFA club coefficient system each clubs ranking at the start of the 2017-18 season is as follows: Benfica 10th, Manchester United 16th, FC Basel 24th and CSKA Moscow 42nd. This suggests that United and Benfica are favourites to progress from the group but of course things aren’t always as simple as that.
Assessing the strength of each club at this stage of the season is difficult because firstly there will always have been changes at clubs over the course of the summer break and secondly at the start of any season the sample size of games to consider is small. This appears even more pertinent in the case of two of the other clubs in the group where changes have been significant.
Benfica have won four straight Portuguese titles but have lost three players from their defensive unit since last season; goalkeeper Ederson has joined Manchester City, fullback Nelson Semedo has moved to Barcelona and Victor Lindelof has moved to Old Trafford. FC Basel have seen changes on and off the pitch. Their run of domestic titles is even more impressive than Benfica’s, they have won the Swiss title in each of the last 8 seasons. They have also done well recently in the Champions League having reached the last 16 of the tournament twice in recent years including 2011-12 season when they eliminated United from group C winning 2-1 at Old Trafford, a year when United and Basel were also drawn with Benfica in that group. The key changes at Basel have seen Youth team manager Raphael Wicky promoted to the role of first team manager, whilst on the playing side captain Matias Delgado made a surprise announcement of his retirement announced after the first game of the season. Ricky van Wolfswinkel, a striker has arrived to reinforce the attack.
CSKA Moscow finished 2nd in the Russian Premier League last year, 7 points behind Spartak. They have won the Premier League six times but were last Champions back in 2012-13 and are not the force they once were. They are probably the makeweights in the group.
Many people have commented that United have done well to be drawn in this group and whilst they have avoided any of the European heavyweights on paper the group looks reasonably even. A lot will depend on how much United have progressed but in their Europa League campaign last year they showed good progress and Jose Mourinho certainly understands what it takes to win in UEFA competitions. Providing that they approach the group stage in the right way United should progress to the knock-out rounds. How far they will progress then depends on how much they grow through the season.
United’s Champions’ League group games
United vs FC Basel, Old Trafford, Manchester. Tuesday 12th September 2017, 19:45 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 17th September, Everton (home game)
CSKA Moscow vs United, Stadion CSKA Moskva. Wednesday 27th September 2014, 19:45 BST. Following fixture – Saturday 30th September, Crystal Palace (home game)
Benfica vs United, Stadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon. Wednesday 18th October 2017, 19:45 BST. Following fixture – Saturday 21st October , Huddersfield Town (away game)
United vs Benfica, Old Trafford, Manchester. Tuesday 31st October 2017, 19:45 BST. Following fixture – Sunday 05th November, Chelsea (away game)
FC Basel vs United, St Jakob Park, Basel. Wednesday 22nd November 2017, 19:45 BST. Following fixture – Saturday 25th November, Brighton and Hove Albion (away game)
United vs CSKA Moscow, Old Trafford, Manchester. Tuesday 05th December 2017, 19:45 BST. Following fixture – Saturday 09th December 2017, Manchester City (home game)
United’s group game squad
- David de Gea, Sergio Romero.
- Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian.
- Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic.
- Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial, James Wilson.
B-List, (Players born after 1st January 1995, who have been eligible to play for the club since his 15th birthday).
- Joel Pereira, Axel Tuanzebe, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay