United should be too strong for challengers: UCL Group A preview
With the UEFA Champions League starting on Tuesday 12th September, ENRG Sport is previewing the famous European competition by analysing each of the eight groups. Providing you with all the information so you know what to expect as the tournament progresses.
By David Ronney
Kicking off our round of previews is Group A. After qualifying for the Champions League via the Europa League, Manchester United have been handed a favourable group draw. Benfica, Basel and CSKA Moscow have all caused English sides problems in the past, but surely United will progress comfortably. Surely?
Here is our preview of each team.
The Portuguese outfit enters this group as the top seed team and having only tasted defeat twice in the league last season, they will certainly be a tough side to break down. Having lost Swedish defender Victor Lindelöf to group opponents Manchester United and goalkeeper Ederson to the Red Devils’ city rivals, Benfica had a tough job of recruitment on their hands.
The Lisbon club made a total of £117.77m from departures to their squad but only spent £7.97m bringing players in. The most expensive signing coming from the services of Croatian attacking midfielder, Filip Krovinovic who signed for £2.7m.
One positive from the summer transfer window however, is the club retaining the services of goal scoring threat Jonas. The Brazilian striker has already netted seven times this season and could be the key man in Benfica’s success in the Champions League this season. With potential problems at the opposite end of the field, the 33-year-old must ensure he does his part during the European nights.
Tournament odds: 150/1
While they certainly lacked ambition in the league last season, Jose Mourinho’s side look like a real threat this campaign. Despite finishing sixth in the league, the Red Devils were crowned Europa League winners last season after a 2-0 win against Ajax, qualifying for the Champions League in the process.
Since then, they have strengthened their numbers by bringing in prolific goal scorer, Romelu Lukaku, the defensive service of Victor Lindelöf, and commanding midfielder, Nemanja Matić, who looks like the final piece of the puzzle to Mourinho’s system. Last season’s top goal scorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović has rejoined the club but may not feature until January due to an injury sustained back in April.
Paul Pogba, Europa League’s player of the tournament from last season, will be expected to play a bigger part this year. United’s signing of Matić will allow the French international to be more of an attacking threat and not worry about the defensive side of things as much.
United’s squad depth in each position not only makes them favourite to win this group, but to also potentially add a fourth Champions League to their trophy cabinet.
Tournament odds: 9/1
Like Benfica last season, the Swiss club only suffered defeat twice in the league as they look to replicate their European campaign seen in the 2014/15. That season Basel reached the last 16 phase of the competition when they finished second in a group that included Real Madrid, Liverpool and Ludogorets Razgrad.
This season however, the club faces the challenge of new management as Raphaël Wicky became the new manager. The 40-year-old has a clear understanding for the club as he has been involved with coaching Basel’s youth sides since 2013.
Basel have faced off against Benfica and Manchester United before, having drawn twice with Benfica. United on the other hand they beat at home and drew in England in the 2011/12 season. This should bode well for Swiss club as they will put up a tough fight.
The club’s £3.15m signing, Ricky van Wolfswinkel will hopefully be the man for goals after Seydou Doumbia loan spell ended with the club. The striker has netted in all but one of Basel’s seven league fixtures this season and while he may be facing off against tougher opposition in the Champions League, he will certainly be a threat in front of goal.
Tournament odds: 200/1
Too many draws last season meant the Moscow outfit finished second in the league behind city rivals, Spartak Moskva. Nevertheless, both sides qualified for the Champions League and both will be seeking bragging rights of hosting European football come February.
CSKA Moskva have been completely quiet in the summer transfer window, having not signed a single player from a club but instead of opting to graduate their academy players to the first team. While it’s always nice to see a club go to its youth for numbers, the severe lack of signings could have a significant impact on performances.
What the Russian capital club do have going in their favour is each home game they play, their opposition will be suffering from jet lag in some capacity due to the lengths of travel they will undergo.
The club’s captain, Igor Akinfeev will need to lead by example and keep things stable at the back of the field. The 31-year-old goalkeeper will need to be calm and composed when faced with some of the world’s best. It may be difficult for the Russian international to keep a clean sheet, however, his capability in goal should be out to frustrate his opposition.
Tournament odds: 100/1
David’s Group A prediction:
- Manchester United
- CSKA Moscow