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Ander Herrera previews Champions League group stage, compares Basel to Ajax

Manchester United are set to return to Champions League action for the first time in nearly two years, with the visit of Swiss champions FC Basel being their first match in the competition. While some may consider the fixture to be a one-sided affair, United midfielder Ander Herrera isn’t taking them lightly, comparing them toe Ajax Amsterdam, whom United faced in last season’s Europa League final.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday night’s group stage opener for MUTV, as reported by United’s official website, Herrera mentions the importance of respecting the opposition, and compares Basel’s policy of nurturing young players to the Dutch side, as well as praising their successes both at home and in Europe.

“Manchester United should be in the Champions League every season. Now we are back after one season and we have to know where we come from. We won the Europa League but we were not in the Champions League, so we have to respect every opponent.

“We face Basel and they’re a very talented team with young players. I think we can compare them with Ajax as they also promote very talented players and have a fantastic Academy. They won the league and cup last season and they are in the Champions League every season, facing good teams and competing against them.

“We want to start the Champions League group well and it’s very important to start with a victory but we have to respect them as well. They will come with good players – a young, talented team and no pressure at Old Trafford. It’s not going to be easy.”

Ajax proved themselves worthy adversaries when they came up against United in May. While United ultimately managed to outclass them and lift the title with a 2-0 win, de Godenzonen definitely did not lie down for the Reds. And Basel themselves have proven to be a troublesome opposition for United in the past. The RotBlau were drawn into Group C of the 2011-12 Champions League, alongside United, and managed to advance to the group stage at United’s expense, winning four out of the six available points from both games played between the two sides.

Accompanying United and Basel in the group are Portuguese league-and-cup double winner Benfica, as well as Russian side CSKA Moscow, whose manager, Viktor Goncharenko, turned Belarusian side BATE Borisov into Champions League group stage regulars. Having replaced sacked manager Leonid Slutsky at CSKA with less of the season, he managed to take CSKA up into second place. Herrera has his own words of warning about these two teams.

“We went already to Moscow two seasons ago and we didn’t beat them. We drew away so it’s always difficult to play in Russia. Benfica are the best team in the last years in Portugal so we know it’s not going to be easy in any game but it’s a good group to play against big teams in Switzerland, Portugal and Russia.

“Maybe they are the biggest in their countries so it’s a good group and we’re looking forward to it. Let’s go with everything.”

Indeed, both teams have also caused problems to United in the past. CSKA held United to a draw in Moscow in the 2015-16 season, in a group stage that finished with United two points off advancing to the knockout phase, while Benfica were also part of the 2011-12 group along with Basel, and came out as group winners, holding United to a draw in both of their matches.

Manchester United have had their stumbles in the Champions League in the past, and this season they have been drawn in a group with clubs that played a part in those stumbles. If United are to advance to the knockout phase of the competition, as is surely their aim, they must do so by affording their group rivals the respect they deserve, starting with the opening fixture against Basel.

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