Manchester United start their Champions League campaign this evening against Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford.
This will be a Champions League campaign with a difference for United and their fans, as boss David Moyes takes charge of his first game in the group stages of Europe’s elite competition.
The Scot is excited about the opportunity. He told Sky Sports: “I’m really excited about it,”
“I’ve been excited since joining Manchester United, every game has offered a new challenge. I’m really looking forward to the Champions League. I’ve been there before, with Everton, and we didn’t quite make the group stages, but this is something different.
“I’m now managing a club which is used to getting to the final stages and we’ll try to do that again. I’ve been in the Premier League for a long time now. I’ve always wanted to get to the Champions League and I did everything I could at Everton to try and make that happen.
“I’ve now got another route in with Manchester United and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to win it. That’s the key.”
I think it is fair to say that Manchester United’s chances of winning the Champions League have decreased just by the absence of Sir Alex Ferguson in the dugout. The fact that United have only brought in one player in Marouane Fellaini this summer will not help their cause either.
The likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and fellow Premier League teams Chelsea and Manchester City have all strengthened their ranks. United’s signing of Fellaini looks very underwhelming when you compare it to some of the players that other teams have signed this summer.
David Moyes may have been a Premier League boss for a long time, but his only experience of the Champions League with Everton came in 2005 in two play-off games against Spanish side Villarreal, who were managed by current City boss Manuel Pellegrini.
The Toffees were eliminated by the Yellow Submarine and Everton did not qualify for the Champions League under Moyes again. Moyes did manage Everton in a few Europa League campaigns, but they failed to impress, as Moyes’ lack of European experience showed.
This seasons Champions League will be a big learning curve for David Moyes. He has to gain experience somehow, but his first attempt at the Champions League group stage could be a difficult one.
At Everton David Moyes had a tendency to get his tactics wrong when it came to the big games, especially in cup competitions. Everton suffered a number of defeats to lower league or inferior teams in cup competitions, not to mention an FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool, when the Toffees were ahead and Moyes had no tactical answer to a Reds comeback.
Moyes has to start developing a different mentality now he is at Manchester United. Of course he cannot go out all guns blazing in the high-profile games, but he needs to realise the amount of resources he now has at his disposal and make use of them.
Moyes thinks that United are in a tough-looking group, alongside Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk. I say this is a good group for Moyes to start his Champions League career with.
With United entering the competition as first seeds United were unlikely to get a completely terrible group draw. The other teams in the group maybe slightly dangerous, but they are not major names in European football.
Bayer Leverkusen finished third in the Bundesliga last season, while Real Sociedad finished fourth in La Liga and Shakhtar were crowned champions in the Ukrainian Premier League.
Shakhtar may have been a bigger threat in previous years with their host of imported star players, but this summer the Ukrainian champions lost two of those star players in attacking midfielders Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Sociedad were also hit by the loss of star midfielder Asier Illarramendi to Spanish giants Real Madrid for £26million. Hardly any of that money was re-invested in the squad, so the Spaniards should not prove a major obstacle for United.
Leverkusen are managed by former-Liverpool centre-back Sami Hyypia and only made it into the Champions League by winning the last five games of last season in the German top-flight.
Manchester United have a lot of quality players in their squad. They should have enough quality within their ranks to coast through the group stage. However, as we have seen with English teams in the competition in recent times, it is not always that easy.
David Moyes has a lot to prove as Manchester United boss, but also has a lot to learn along the way. This season should be used as a learning experience for the Scot to gain knowledge of the competition and get accustomed to it.
It is hard to see United going all the way this season, as some of their rivals have much stronger teams and squads. I do not think a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is unrealistic, but winning his first Premier League title must surely by Moyes priority this season.
How will United fare in the Champions League under David Moyes?