The Champions League returns to Old Trafford this week as Manchester United hope to get rid of some demons after disappointing showings in the last two years of Europe’s elite competition with the very capable Bayer Leverkusen coming to town.
It will be David Moyes’ first proper taste of the Champions League after two defeats in the qualifying phase of the competition in 2005. After he secured victory at home on Saturday and appeared to be fairly relaxed about the prospect of a European night at Old Trafford, all eyes are on the players ahead of a potentially tricky group stage.
Leverkusen are joined by both Real Sociedad and Shaktar Donetsk meaning escaping Group A could be a difficult task. Solid home form is pivotal in the Champions League and it is often the cornerstone of a successful campaign, so a victory would be the perfect way to kick start the competition.
United will have to do it without a host of first team players. Nani is suspended for that red card against Real Madrid while Welbeck and Jones are also ruled out through injury. Shinji Kagawa could be involved after completing some training in the past few days after missing Saturday’s game against Palace with the flu.
Former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia is making his debut as a manager in the competition and heads to Manchester with his side having never tasted victory on English soil in six previous attempts. They have begun their domestic campaign brightly though, sitting third in the Bundesliga after four victories in the opening five fixtures.
Their new look side are extremely impressive on the counter with Stefan Kiessling, the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season, providing a good focal point to their attack. He’s begun this season in an impressive vein of form, scoring four and assisting three. New boy and former United target Heung Min Son is likely to play on the wing along with Sidney Sam, offering pace on the counter.
United may be forgiven for having one eye on the weekend with a potentially season-defining clash against Manchester City on Sunday followed by a Capital One Cup game against arch-rivals Liverpool. An early slip-up in Europe could be costly however, with the club’s home form contributing to their failure to qualify for the knock-out phase two seasons ago.
Moyes has won plaudits for the new found defensive solidarity which has typified his spell so far with United but in the attack, United were sloppy in their last two league outings and can’t afford to be as ponderous in the final third as they were at the weekend.
270 minutes without a goal in open-play perhaps doesn’t give a true reflection of United’s performance levels but it’s a statistic which needs rectifying. Leverkusen will be no pushovers but provided the German outfits lethal counter attacking can be effectively dealt with, victory is attainable ahead of a big week for Moyes new look regime.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-0 Leverkusen