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Manchester United drawn against Benfica, FC Basel, and CSKA Moscow in the Champions League group stage

Manchester United found out their fate in the UEFA Champions League group stage draw for the 2017/18 season, the first time the Old Trafford club have been in the competition since they exited from the group stages into the UEFA Europa League in the 2015/16 season. Last season, United only qualified for the Europa League, winning the tournament in Stockholm in May, 2-0 victors against Ajax. United finished sixth in the Premier League, missing out on the Champions League, but getting into the tournament through the Europa League, meaning five teams from England will be in the competition this season, United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Scottish champions Celtic also made it through the play off round, meaning six teams from the United Kingdom will play in the group stages, nearly one team per group.

United manager Jose Mourinho will manage his club for the first time in the elite European competition, giving him a challenge in the 2017/18 season in which he will be expected to lead an offensive to lift the Premier League title in May. Reports have confirmed this week that United’s players have been tasked with a Premier League and Emirates FA Cup double this season, also tasked to reach the last eight of the Champions League this season, which based on last season would be manageable, playing more matches in the Europa League so the team will be able to play the number of matches expected by the manager. United will obviously not be pitted against any of the English teams in the competition this season. United were drawn in Group A along with Benfica, FC Basel, and CSKA Moscow. The full group stage draw can be found below:

Manchester United have faced all of the teams they have been drawn against before, which is a good thing as they know what to expect, or at least should. United have scouted Benfica for a number of seasons now, so they should be on of the teams Mourinho and his staff should be knowledgeable about. Basel were a tough side for United six years ago and CSKA Moscow will always be a tough one, perhaps not just in terms of competition but travel also. Here is everything you need to know about the three teams Manchester United will face in the UEFA Champions League this season.

Benfica

Benfica are managed by Rui Vitória and are the reigning Primeira Liga champions and were founded on the 28th February 1940. The Águias (Eagles) play at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal which will be a good trip for the travelling Manchester United supporters. United have scouted Benfica for a while now with Jose Mourinho intensifying scouting in his native Portugal, so this season will have another means for scouting the club, ready for the first match of the new Champions League season. There have been nine competitive matches between Benfica and United in the history of both clubs, perhaps the biggest for United was the European Cup final victory over the Portuguese giants in 1968 as United lifted the European Cup for the very first time.

United have lost one of the nine matches, a 2-1 defeat on the 7th December 2005 which saw Geovanni (17′) and Gilberto Beto (34′) cancelling out Paul Scholes opener in the sixth minute. United have drawn twice, 2-2 and 1-1 in their last two matches, played in the group stages in the 2011/12 season. The six wins for United will be something to look at and show United can beat the Portuguese giants, but the most recent matches will show the warning signs. Konstantinos Mitroglou is the star player at Benfica, scoring 27 goals in 43 appearances last season. New United signing Victor Lindelof could give United some insight on his former team. Benfica have won the European Cup twice, back-to-back in the 1960/61 season and the 1961/62 season.

FC Basel

Basel are managed by Raphael Wicky and are the reigning Swiss Super League champions and were founded on the 18th November 1893. The RotBlau (RedBlue) play at the St. Jakob-Park in Basel, Switzerland which is a relatively short trip for United. Basel are a good side, but United will be looking to reign supreme in the group stages of the Champions League this season, avoiding the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Juventus, which is a good thing. Other clubs have not been so lucky. United and Basel have met before, four times in the history of both clubs, all after the year 2000. United have won once, drawn twice and lost once. In the 2011/12 season, United had both Benfica and Basel in their group, failing to beat both teams.

A 3-3 draw against Basel at Old Trafford was followed by a 2-1 defeat and United exiting the group stage that season, falling into the UEFA Europa League for the first time, and falling short in that competition too. The only victory over Basel for United came on the 26th November 2002, a 3-1 victory which saw Ruud van Nistelrooy score a brace (62′ and 63′) with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (68′) completing United’s scoring. Christian Gimenez opened the scoring in the first minute of the match. Seydou Doumbia is the clubs star player, scoring 20 goals last season. Eric Bailly should be knowledgeable about his compatriot. Basel have never won the Champions League achieving a quarter-final place in the 1973/74 season, also reaching the last 16 in the 2011/12 and 2015/16 seasons.

CSKA Moscow

CSKA Moscow are managed by Viktor Goncharenko and finished as the runners-up in the Russian Premier League last season and were founded on the 27th August 1911. The Krasno-sinie (Red-Blues) play at the VEB Arena at Khodynka Field, Moscow, Russia. This will be the biggest journey for United in the group stages of the Champions League this season and will be a tricky visit for United supporters as a visa will be required. United and CSKA Moscow have played four times in the history of both clubs, the matches played post-2000 in the group stages of the Champions League in the 2009/10 and 2015/16 seasons. United have never been beaten by the Russian side, winning twice and drawing twice one each home and away.

In the first match between the two clubs, United won 1-0 in Moscow with Michael Owen scoring the only goal of the match. In the second group stage match, played at Old Trafford, it was a 3-3 scoreline with United capitalising from a 90th-minute own goal. The next two matches came post-Sir Alex Ferguson, in the Louis van Gaal era. United drew 1-1 in Moscow, Anthony Martial scoring the goal, winning 1-0 at Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney scoring the winning goal. Israeli midfielder Bibras Natkho was CSKA Moscow’s best player last season with seven goals in 33 appearances, not the best, but this does not mean they are not a threat. The Russian side have never won the Champions League but did lift the UEFA Cup in 2005.

Thoughts on the draw and Manchester United’s chances this season

Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United squad will be seeking a good return to the Champions League this season, putting the Europa League victory last season in their locker to show that the side can go all the way in competitions. Doing the same in the Champions League this season could well be possible but not expected based on the fact United looked to be a big distance away from the likes of Real Madrid, the team who has lifted the Champions League trophy for the last two seasons, losing the UEFA Super Cup match between the two sides earlier this month. United will be pushing to get out of the group stage, avoiding the Europa League as it is a drain on the squad, taking what they can in the knockout round if they make it there. It will be a tough competition, but Mourinho has reportedly set the target of a place in the last eight, which will be great if United are capable of doing so.

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