After spending last season toiling in the UEFA Europa League, Manchester United are back in the big time. The Champions League nights are back at Old Trafford & it brings some blockbuster games ahead which will really test whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad is good enough to tussle with the best.
Normally having the reputation for being seeded in kinder groups, UEFA wasn’t feeling so generous towards the red half of Manchester. While Manchester City (like always) got the easiest group possible, United were placed in one containing Paris Saint Germain, RB Leipzig & Istanbul Basaksehir.
Going up against last season’s finalist & semi-finalists will test the Red Devils to the limit and after their poor start to the Premier League campaign, there’s uncertainty over the future beyond the group stages.
Champions League Group H Teams
The Champions League runners-up from last season, PSG are definitely favourites to win this group. Last season they broke all their ‘curses’ & almost clinched their first-ever UCL trophy, only to go down narrowly to the dominant Bayern Munich. This time, they go again to finish the job.
In the group stages, they obviously have a vendetta against United – the same team who embarrassingly knocked them out two years ago. Indeed, PSG were humiliated in their own yard, losing an easy lead to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. This time, they’ll be looking to serve the dish called revenge as cold as possible.
After looking at United’s defensive state, the menacing trio of Neymar–Kylian Mbappe–Angel Di Maria will be licking their lips. The opportunity to clock lots of goal past the Red Devils, outplay them and pound on their misery will be something they’ll be obsessed on making a reality.
The semi-finalists who were incidentally knocked out by PSG last season are also be looking for revenge in this group. But that doesn’t mean they’ll let off United easily & will want to defeat them to narrowly pip them to a place in the knockout rounds.
Influenced by brilliant young manager Julian Nagelsmann, Leipzig play a really attractive brand of soccer. With their fluidity & flexibility, even the sturdiest defensive sides (like Atletico Madrid & Tottenham) struggled to keep them quiet. So for an unstable, nervy backline like United, you can only envision the worst.
The Red Devils can’t go all defensive against Leipzig and must take the fight to them. Apart from the colossal Dayot Upamecano, they are somewhat vulnerable defensively. As long as United can penetrate through their weak areas & take their chances, they could give a stern fight to the Bundesliga side.
The ‘weakest link’ or the ‘whipping boys’ of this group, Istanbul Basaksehir is the one every team (including United) will want maximum points off. They’ll meet their former star Rafael playing for the Turkish side, but United need to ensure they do not slip up against Basaksehir.
Of course, it won’t be a rollover and the Red Devils will have to work very hard to get the wins. But knowing the difference in quality between both sides, unless United can get big wins over Istanbul Basaksehir, they can wish their knockout hopes goodbye.
So can United make it out of the group?
Seeing the way how they’ve started the Premier League campaign, it’s difficult to be optimistic about United’s chances of a top-2 finish in this group. Quality-wise, they are nowhere near PSG. They could have a better (well known) squad than Leipzig, but lack the momentum or proper winning style which the German side does.
Ideally, somewhere near 10-12 points should be enough for a team to make it out of this group. Unless something drastic happens, none of the sides will be able to win every single game in the group stages. If United can defeat Istanbul & just manage to not lose every game against PSG/Leipzig, they could be in a solid position to qualify come December.
Before the Spurs catastrophe, United have maintained a solid record against ‘top sides’ under Solskjaer. They’re also a very good ‘Cup team’, considering how they progressed into the semi-finals of every Cup competition last season and have already progressed into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals this time. If they take this ‘one game at a time’ mentality to grind out positive result & play without fear, they should secure a second-place & move onto the Round of 16.
But the problem for United is things are not ‘going according to the plan’ this season at all. They have a packed scheduled with the UCL games & PL games stacked against each other, which could easily cause their limited squad to fatigue really quickly. With the same backline playing week in, week out, they’ll clearly tire out and give plenty of opportunities to PSG & Leipzig to pounce.
PSG are definitely winning this group despite their early-season blues. United will fight Leipzig for the second spot and will hope they do an Ajax from last season (losing easy games & getting ko’ed in the groups). Unless the Bundesliga side shoots themselves in the foot & makes it considerably easy for them to quality, I really can’t see United getting anything but a 3rd place finish at the end of the group stages.