This week the Red Thoughts team discuss the Champions League draw, what must Manchester United do to progress in the competition and what they think is a realistic target for the competition this season.
DAN: After seeing the group, I believe its a very winnable group for us. I think the only down side is the long trip to Moscow. Matic and Lindelof get a trip back to Benfica as well, but we shouldn’t underestimate anybody in the group.
COREY: I’m fairly happy to be honest. We have a good chance of making it out of the group, assuming we don’t chop and change too much… in current form we shouldn’t have too many issues.
I think it will also be a good opportunity to find our legs in the competition again. Get a few comfortable European nights under our belt before having to face the big guns. For players like Lukaku, who don’t have European experience, it will be important to get a few games under the belt before having to face the Barcelona’s and Bayern’s of the world.
DAN: To be honest, I don’t think we have to worry about Lukaku’s lack of European experience. The lad is hungry to prove he is up there with the big boys. Give him the right service and the lad will relish it.
BETS: I am very happy with the draw. We shouldn’t have any trouble progressing from that group as long as we don’t underestimate our opponents. They are all tough away gigs so we have to make sure we get all nine points at home. But from then on entirely depends on how the team develops over the first half of the season. If we’ve got Martial and Mkhi on fire, Lukaku scoring freely and Pogba rampant, there’s no team in the world that won’t fear us going forward. It’s the defence that worries me. Have we got a Champions League winning defence? I don’t think we’re even close. We’d need Lindelof to start playing like he did for Benfica, or for Rojo to come back even stronger, we’d need Luke Shaw to fulfil his potential, and Bailly and Valencia to both be at their best. We also need to avoid injuries to quite a number of key players. So, realistically, I think that’s too many variables and we might struggle at the R16 or QF stages, depending on the draw. But, if everything fell into place, we could be good enough to go all the way.
EHSAAN: I’m personally very satisfied with the draw. It’s basically like having a Europa League group in the Champions League. No excuses if we fail to make the last 16. We shouldn’t underestimate them under any circumstances though. We should be happy that we don’t face Benfica in the first match, as we’ll be missing both Bailly and Jones for that one. I don’t have much confidence in Lindelof and Smalling (maybe Tuanzebe should start). As I said, we shouldn’t underestimate our opponents, that’ll be the death of us for sure. All the other English teams got tougher draws than us so we should be happy!
HEMOR: I’m very happy with our UCL draw. We should be able to beat all the teams there so I’m expecting us to be top of the group. I’ll be happy with us reaching the quarter finals but looking at other groups, we might still face a big team in round of 16 and if we face one of the top teams like (Juve, Bayern, PSG e.t.c) at round of 16 and they knock us out then I won’t be disappointed, as long as the scoreline is not embarrassing and we put up a good fight.
I won’t rule out us getting to semi finals or final, or even winning it, because José has a way of winning stuff with underdogs.
EHSAAN: I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make the quarter finals, as with a squad which has our quality in depth, we should be able to make a UCL run at least that long.
CARL: We’re coming through this group, I’m not even slightly concerned.
REX: This group is tougher than people give it credit for. The manager echoed these sentiments in his press conference before the Leiceister game. All those teams except one have been bogey teams for us in Europe. Where we have progressed, caution should be exercised! In so saying, we should win at least our home games. Win all your home games and you qualify, plain and simple. Probably one away win or draw after that should secure it.
Quarters are the expectation depending on the knockout draw. If we get a Madrid or Bayern in the knockout stages, that might throw a wedge, but I believe we can hold our own with the rest (no injuries/suspensions hopefully). By that time, we should have an experienced head like Zlatan back to help out as well so we look good for the later stages. With a little bit of luck, who knows. We could shock a few people!
RICK: Rex, I don’t think you give us enough credit. No offence to Madrid or Bayern, but I still feel that with a fully fit squad we can hold our own against them. The group stage was a bit kind to us. We could have been in Spurs’ group, which is by far the worst – or based on quality, Monaco’s group, which is the most competitive. I still feel that we should top the group, not disrespecting our opponents, as we have the squad and the experience if not to win our away games, at least to win all the home games and top the group with at least 12 points. I know José’s bogey team is Basel, but again, we should still beat them. I’m confident even though this is the first year this team will have gone into the CL together, they can have a real good go at this and get to the semi finals at least.
BETS: I’d like to think we could win it, but I can’t see anyone other than Real, Barca or Bayern winning the Champions League. On paper now PSG must be as strong as anyone, especially with the Mbappe “loan” (those financial fair play rules are working well, aren’t they?), but I just can’t see them winning it. I say this partly because their league isn’t competitive enough to prepare them for it, but also because it just seems like it’s about pedigree and history somehow. Since 1998, the only club to win it that hadn’t previously won it was Chelsea. That’s coming into 20 seasons with only one new winner and tells you how pedigree counts for a lot. City are another team who, on paper, should have a chance, but you kind of think nah. I would fancy us before either of those sides but for me, with Barca losing Neymar and replacing him with someone costing €150m who can’t even do keepy-uppy, it’s between Real and Bayern.
CARL: United have more chance than we’re being given credit for. Real are strong favourites of course, with PSG, but United and Barca are the best bets after that for my money. United have a good attack, but I think the strength of our defence can potentially carry us a long way. With a defence as strong as ours and with Mourinho as our manager you’d have to be a fool to disagree us as a threat.
BETS: I really couldn’t disagree with you more Carl in that I think defence is our weakness, as I said earlier. All our centre backs have mistakes in them, too many players who will give away stupid free kicks around the box, or even penalties. Valencia is good going forward but not a natural defender, Blind is too slow at LB and Darmian is more naturally right sided. We need a lot of things to come right for that defence to hold up against world class attacks (Lindelof and Shaw to come good especially), whereas I have no doubts about our attacking threat. Having said that, Mourinho has won the Champions League with worse defences so you never know…