Wednesday 21 March 2018


Benfica, Basel, Manchester

United, Otelul Galati

Alex Ferguson will feel this draw is just about as good as it could have got for Manchester United, avoiding the more threatening second-seeded teams, any arduous travel (with the exception of a trip to Romania in October) and giving United the chance to wrap up qualification with a couple of games to spare.

But whether this group will do much to prepare the young players in Ferguson's side for the knockout stages of the competition is a different question. The intriguing factor for Ferguson is how United's midfield cope in games where they are struggling to get the ball, and that's a situation they are unlikely to find themselves in that often in this group. Anderson needs to maintain his early-season form if United want to be involved in the business end of the competition.

Benfica, responsible for knocking United out at the group stage in 2005, will pose the biggest threat. Under their coach, Jorge Jesus, they have added the Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel, a long-term target for Arsenal, and he will line up in midfield alongside the veteran Pablo Aimar and fellow Argentinian Nicolás Gaitán in what is an attacking looking side.

Basel will not pose much of a threat, while debutants Otelul Galati will hope to emulate their compatriots, FC Cluj, who caused Roma and Chelsea problems on their first season in the Champions League in 2008.

Key player: Anderson (right)

Key game: Basel v Manchester United, Dec 7

Prediction: 1 Man Utd, 2 Benfica, 3 Basel, 4 Otelul Galati

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