On paper Manchester United appear to have got it easy, with Braga and CFR Cluj inexperienced at this level while Galatasaray’s glory days seem way behind them. However you could have said the same thing about Benfica, FC Basel and Otelul Galati last season; United will not be so complacent this season.
UEFA Europa League: Runners-up (1): 2010–11; UEFA Champions League: Group stage 2010-11.
Qualified: Third in Portuguese league (defeated Udinese on penalties in qualifying)
For the second season in a row United face a Portuguese side in the first Group Stage but Braga carry with them much less fear than the Benfica side that United struggled to get to grips with last season. The Archbishops were thrashed by Arsenal 6-0 during their last Champions League campaign which eventually lead to them being defeated by Andre Villas Boas’s Porto in the Europa League final.
Last season they finished third in Portugal and played a spectacular game with Udinese in order to qualify for this season’s edition of the Champions League.
They have lost their biggest goal threat in Lima who has joined Benfica and will be sorely missed but fellow Brazilian Alan is dangerous on the wings.
UEFA Cup: Winners (1): 1999–2000; UEFA Champions League: Semi-Finals (1): 1988–1989
Qualified: Turkish Champions
Manchester United fans will always remember being welcomed to ‘hell’ back in 1993 and United have also struggled with Turkish opposition in recent years (with the exception of Bursaspor).
It has been a long time coming for the Turkish side that have not played in the Champions League group stage since going out to Liverpool, Bordeaux and PSV Eindhoven’s combined efforts in 2006-07.
But the side that have brought in defender Cris from Lyon also have Emmanuel Eboue, Felipe Melo, Johan Elmander and Hamit Altintop in their ranks and will fancy their chances of progressing in a seemingly weak group.
UEFA Champions League: Group stage 2008-09, 2010-11.
Qualified: Romanian champions (beat Slovan Liberec 3-1 & FC Basel 3-1 on aggregate in qualifying).
An inexperienced European side they may be, with the highlight being an away win against Roma and draw with Chelsea in 2008-09, they should provide a sterner test than the poor Otelul Galati side United faced last season.
The Railwaymen have brought in Croatian international Sasa Bjelanovic, former Stoke City midfielder Adam Vass and Uruguayan international Matias Aguirregaray to add depth to their squad with Brazilian captain Cadu and last season’s top scorer Pantelis Kapetanos vital to their success.
What do you make of Manchester United’s group?
image: © Nasmac