by Ewan McQueen
Group H on paper should see Manchester United stroll through to the last 16, but everyone said that last season and Sir Alex Ferguson’s men proceeded to finish third behind Benfica and FC Basel.
This season sees them pitted in a group along with Braga, Galatasaray and CFR Cluj. With the greatest respect to those sides, they shouldn’t pose a huge threat to Manchester United topping the group.
However, if the Old Trafford side take their eye off the ball, then their group opponents all have the talent within them to upset the odds.
Manchester United kick off their campaign against Galatasaray at Old Trafford and will be looking to get three points on the board straight away.
They were impressive at the weekend in recording a 4-0 victory against Wigan, in which they were without Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa for 90 minutes and also Robin Van Persie for most of the game.
Kagawa and Van Persie should start tomorrow and they will be key players in Sir Alex Ferguson’s quest for a record equalling third Champions League trophy as a manager.
If all of United’s players are fit and firing, they will easily get out the group and they will look to go all the way to Wembley next May for the final.
Braga will fancy their chances of finishing in second place in the group behind Manchester United. They secured their place in the group stages in impressive style beating Udinese on penalties in the play-off round. The Portuguese side haven’t been in impressive form in the league so far only winning one of their three matches under new boss Jose Peseiro. However, with a Europa League final appearance under their belt two years ago and some top players such as striker Helder Barbosa and defender Maximilian Haas, they will be looking to reach the last 16.
Galatasaray will look to thrive on their red-hot atmosphere at their stadium in Istanbul, to have any chance of reaching the last 16. They start off with a game against group favourites Manchester United at Old Trafford but come to England in good form. After four games of the Turkish league, they are unbeaten and sit top of the table. Last month they also won the Turkish Super Cup, beating Fenerbache 3-2.
With the experience of Johan Elmander and Milan Baros up front they will hope to progress to the last 16 in their first Champions League participation since 2006/2007. They will most likely compete with Braga for the second knockout spot or drop down into the Europa League after Christmas.
Romanians CFR Cluj complete the group and are clearly the weakest team in the group. However, the Romanian champions aren’t just there to make up the numbers and impressively beat FC Basel home and away to make the group stages.
In their last appearance in the Champions League in 2010/11 they beat Basel and managed a respectable home draw against Roma. They currently lie fifth in the league table though having only won three of their eight league matches so far. They have the ability to surprise stronger opponents, but a bottom place finish surely awaits them in Group H.