New Manchester United manager David Moyes will lead a march into Europe for the first, with a lot of expectation upon his shoulders. With a patchy start to the Premier League season, this will be a stern test for them against the German outfit. The whole squad will need to deliver if United are to navigate a group of possible pitfalls.
Deepest of those is the presence of Shakhtar Donetsk, whose last 16 elimination at the hands of Borussia Dortmund last term belied the quality of the football they had played to reach there. Creator-in-chief Henrikh Mkhitaryan has since been snapped up by their conquerors, while both Willian (Chelsea) and Fernandinho (Man City) have found their way to England – but the Ukrainian champions have restocked the shelves and look ready to give United the same headaches they caused Chelsea 12 months ago.
A competitive Group A is completed by two less-heralded teams from the major leagues of Europe.Liverpool fans will surely be lending their support to a Bayer Leverkusen side managed by Anfield legend Sami Hyypia and relying on the goals of last term’s surprise Bundesliga top scorer, Stefan Kiessling, but the Germans return to the Champions League without the threat of Andre Schurrle (now at Chelsea) and look short on star quality. Real Sociedad are back on Europe’s biggest stage for the first time in more than a decade, the Basques having dumped Lyon out in the qualifying round. Their new striker HarisSeferovic has begun his La Liga career in some style.
What to expect from the Matches
At Old Trafford, there is some pressure building considering United have only won three of their last nine European matches. The last time that they did go up against a German side, they took a 6-1 aggregate win in the semifinals of the 2010/11 Champions League against Schalke. United and Leverkusen have met before, with Leverkusen winning on away goals when they met for the first time in the 2001/02 semifinals of the competition, the match at Old Trafford ending in a 2-2 draw. When they met in the Group Stage the very next season, United took home and away wins and went on to win the group. The last five German visitors to Old Trafford have all lost. Both teams are likely to get on the score sheet- Leverkusen do have some frailties at the back, but going forward, they look very powerful.
The Germans have last season’s Bundesliga golden boot winner Stefan Kiessling. He, along with Sidney Sam have helped Leverkusen get off to a strong start in the Bundesliga this term, both firing in four goals in four matches. They have a strong front three, fast and creative and they have goals in them. Both have good options up front, and both are capable of defensive lapses. Away from home in the Champions League, Leverkusen are winless in their last twelve (D3 L9), so they haven’t been great travellers. They also haven’t won any of their seven away matches in England either, taking away just one point. So while there are goals in this fixture, there is reason to perhaps just lean towards the home side edging it.
Players to watch out for
Robin van Persie(Manchester United):The Dutchman has continue this season from where he left off and already has scored five goals in as many appearances for the English champions. His lethal finishing will be critical to ensure that Moyes gets his first Champions League win.
Fred(Shakhtar Donetsk):The Brazilian midfielder is one of five big-money signings Shakhtar have made to help ease the pain of their summer losses. Two strikes in the recent Ukrainian Super Cup prove that this lad knows where the goal is, too.
Predicted Score lines and Starting line ups
Manchester United 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Real Sociedad will look to make home advantage count against the Ukranians, and will be looking to ensure at that they do not make a losing start to the tournament. Shakhtar, on the other hand, will be hoping to continue their good work from last campaign and take all three points from their game against the Basque team.
Real Sociedad 1-1 Shakhtar Donetsk