It might have been a chaotic start for Manchester United this season under José Mourinho, but with their most recent win at Watford continuing to lift spirits, the Red Devils can turn that important victory into momentum for upcoming battles.
With the Champions League groups having been decided and the first round taking place in mid-September, United have a tougher-than-usual group to negotiate out of.
If Mourinho is to make this season memorable, he’s first going to have to overcome a challenging group stage that sees his players go up against the Swiss and Italian champions, as well as a very unpredictable Spanish side.
Here’s a breakdown of the group The Red Devils have found themselves in:
Their first match of Group H sees United travel to Switzerland to take on Swiss champions BSC Young Boys. Before Adi Hütter’s players lifted the prestigious Swiss Super League title, Young Boys had not won the league for 32 years. Such was the dominance of Basel over the course of the turn of the year, other clubs have rarely had a look in.
But, against all odds, Young Boys delivered the title to the city of Bern and made history. With the Swiss league starting earlier than other European competitions, Young Boys have carried that rich vein of form into this season and are sitting pretty on top of the table with 18 points, eight ahead of their challengers.
Last season, when Manchester United visited Switzerland to take on FC Basel, Mourinho’s players were completely upstaged even with the lion’s share of possession. United are likely to dispatch of Young Boys at home, but going away from Old Trafford is different, especially with the Bern-based club in such good form at home.
Two players stand out from the crowd at Young Boys, those being: Christian Fassnacht, playing on the right wing, and centre forward Guillaume Hoarau. Both have found the back of the net on four occasions this season and have proved to be Young Boys’ attacking threat. With United’s leaky defence creeping in this season, Mourinho will want to make sure that these two players are effectively marked.
Gerardo Seoane’s men are offered at an enticing 14/5 to secure a point against United when they come to visit in mid-September, while Paddy Power have the Red Devils at overwhelming favourites, pricing them at 4/6 to return to England with the three points.
United have regularly struggled against Spanish sides in European competition, highlighted by Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao taking the Red Devils to the sword home and away in 2012, as well as Sevilla knocking Mourinho’s team out of the Champions League last season.
Valencia stand in their way this time out and will be tough competitors to overcome. Although they are yet to win this season in La Liga, they do not play United until early October and so will have time to put a run of wins together beforehand and build momentum before coming to Old Trafford.
Marcelino made some clever acquisitions over the summer which will only bolster their team in the Champions League. Paris Saint-Germain’s Gonçalo Guedes was brought in for £36 million after completing a successful one-year loan last season. The Portuguese winger had a terrific year in Spain and can look to develop into the player PSG thought they were initially buying from Benfica in 2017.
As well as Guedes, Geoffrey Kondogbia, from Inter, Daniel Wass, from Celta Vigo, Michy Batshuayi, from Chelsea, and Mouctar Diakhaby, from Lyon, were all brought in on either permanent or loan deals. Clever business was conducted that will aid them once they gel as a collective unit.
Valencia will be a very difficult team to get the better of and a good test will be in their opening match against Juventus. Marcelino’s men are 16/5 to stand their ground and use the home crowd to their advantage and claim the three points with Ladbrokes, while Betfair price them at 23/10 to draw the match.
The seven-time reigning Italian champions also recruited well this summer, with the main player coming through the door in Turin being none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.
What once seemed a fantasy for the Portuguese superstar ever leaving Real Madrid, the Agnelli family, who own the Italian club, showed their prowess in the transfer market by securing Ronaldo ahead of their competitors.
The Bianconeri have been on the verge of European success for a while now, but have been lacking the missing piece. Juventus’ Massimiliano Allegri obviously feels that Ronaldo can bring that ruthless and clinical edge to their side. After all, Champions League glory is won on fine moments.
Over the course of history, Manchester United have won five, drawn two and lost five against the Italians. A fierce rivalry that was heightened after United’s victory, and Roy Keane’s masterclass, in the 1999 Champions League semi-final in Turin- the year the Red Devils went on to win the treble.
Under Allegri, Juventus are a very diligent and organised outfit, which makes it increasingly difficult for any team to go and break them down. They are likely to play their 4-3-3 formation with Ronaldo on the wing, cutting inside, and Mario Mandžukić as the leading centre forward.
As Juventus showed last season against Tottenham, you simply can never write them off, especially when they now have immense strength in depth. United will find it frustrating at times throughout the two matches, but the key to success over any Italian team is patience - a trait that Mourinho has cherished throughout his career.
It will be one of the ties of the group stages and should give spectators the entertainment they long for in Europe’s top-tier competition.