The Champions League draw wouldn’t have determined Manchester United’s heartbeat in Europe, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players should have been satisfied with the way the balls fell to them in Istanbul.
Flights to Bern, Bergamo and Villarreal are not among the most unusual locations in the European calendar and United He was previously only three years ago and the last twice since 2005, as well as met them on neutral ground in disappointing circumstances in May.
Bergamo will be a new territory, and Atalanta under Gian Piero Gasperini is likely to be one of Europe’s greatest artists, but how to reach any of these journeys will remain unknown.
What should be available is the round of 16 as the collective winners. Having been placed in the second pot, United could have been hit by the group of death, or danger to say the least. Instead, they were placed in Group F, which may not qualify for the free cross but neither should be as useless and frustrating as last season.
Atalanta finished third three years in a row in Serie A, but Italian clubs have struggled to make their mark in the European competition recently. Villarreal qualify under Unai Emery, as United discovered in Gdansk, but Solskjaer’s side still have to attack themselves for not winning the Europa League, and the Spaniards came seventh in La Liga’s weakest in years. Little boys should be skin boys.
United may still be licking their wounds from their disastrous collapse in the group stage last year, but they are a stronger and wiser team now and anything but first in this group would be a failure. A year ago, they beat PSG 2-1 in Paris and RB Leipzig 5-0 at Old Trafford in the first and second rounds but they are still trying to finish third. Repetition seems unlikely.
signatures Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane They added quality to this team over the summer and in Varane they won the Champions League four times at the age of 28, an impressive record and pedigree that only Solskjaer’s side can help.
United’s ambitions this season may focus on the Premier League and going toe-to-toe with who emerge as the most credible rivals from Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, although Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Southampton has already underlined how much the team is in demand. The local campaign will be.
Europe can certainly be more than a distraction. United have reached the Champions League quarter-finals twice in a decade and suffered resounding defeats in both, by Barcelona in 2019 and Bayern Munich in 2014. A better goal than this season seems reasonable.
Winning the group should give United a more favorable draw in the last 16 and after that all they need is a little luck in the draw and progress should be achievable. If balls keep falling for English clubs, winning the Champions League may be easier than the Premier League.
United, City, Chelsea and Liverpool are shaping up to be a tough four-way battle for the title, but this quartet is also among the top six in betting to win the Champions League. Paris Saint-Germain is an obvious candidate after the inclusion of Lionel Messi, but then the four English clubs and Bayern Munich came in the half dozen.
Italian clubs in Europe have struggled recently and champion Inter Milan had to sell two of their best players this summer, Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku. Juventus can still agree to the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The problems facing Real Madrid and Barcelona are well documented. Barcelona are unlikely to cause problems in the last four without Messi.
So there is reason to believe that at least one Premier League club will return to Istanbul in May. After the draw handed out on Thursday, United should seek to improve their Champions League record for at least the last decade.