An army of world wide Manchester United fans only have a matter of hours to wait before discovering what the European Champions League has in store. With the lone exception of 1995-96 when the runner up in the previous season’s domestic league did not have an automatic right to qualify as they do these days, it will be the nineteenth consecutive year in which United has been in the draw of Europe’s most prestigious tournament – a record that no other Premier League club can claim, but the anticipation never fails to maintain its intensity.
Unless fans are over the age of 25 they would be unlikely to ever remember a time when United were not competing against the best clubs in Europe. It’s a privilege that can often be taken for granted but certainly not one that comes easily as so many other Premier League clubs have often discovered.
A complicated group system which includes a multitude of factors can throw up any number of possible combinations but all will be revealed at the UEFA draw on Thursday evening at the luxurious Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. With all 32 qualifiers now identified following the conclusion of the play off round, the clubs are split into four seeding pots from which eight groups containing one team from each will be drawn randomly with the provision that no team can play another from its own association.
While the group that United will be drawn into carries numerous possibilities it can also be narrowed down to one out of Real Madrid (Spain), AS Roma (Italy), Werder Bremen (Germany), Shakhtar Donetsk (Russia), Benfica (Portugal), Valencia (Spain), Panathinaikos (Greece) or Marseilles (France)
Another will be one from the pot containing Glasgow Rangers (Scotland), Ajax (Holland), Shalke 04 (Germany), Basle (Switzerland), Braga (Portugal), Spartak Moscow (Russia) and FC Kobenhavn (Denmark)
And United’s group will be completed by a club from Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel), FC Twente (Holland), FC Rubin Kazan (Russia), Auxerre (France), CFR 1907 Cluj (Rumania), Partizan Belgrade (Serbia), MŠK Zilina (Slovakia) and Bursaspor (Turkey)
Seeded clubs Inter Milan (Italy), Barcelona (Spain), Chelsea (England), Arsenal (England), Bayern Munich (Germany), AC Milan (Italy) and Lyon (France) will each be in one of the other seven groups containing the remaining qualifiers.
While it has been shown year after year that matches can never be won on paper, an ideal group for United may well consist of Panathinaikos, FC Kobenhavn and MŠK Zilina but that may be nothing more than wishful thinking. If, on the other hand there has to be what might be called a ‘Group of death’ it will surely have to be United, Real Madrid, Glasgow Rangers and possibly Rubin Kazan because of the the long trip involved in travelling to snow bound Russia.
As prestigious as the European Champions League undoubtedly is, an element of luck always plays a part and United will need to have as big a share of it as anyone else.
What will be the ideal group for Manchester United to be drawn in?