Champions League Preview
- Published on Saturday, 11 September 2010 09:09
On the eve of a new Champions League campaign, free lance journalist Vincent Forrester gives us an insight of the 3 teams competing in the group stage against Manchester United.
Next week sees the start of the group stages of the Champions League, and once more, as you would expect, United are one of the favourites: both SkyBet and Paddy Power have us fourth favourites, behind Barca, Real Madrid and Chelsea, at 8/1; William Hill put us fourth too, at 7/1.
But what are our chances this year? Let's take a look at our group, group C, where we line up alongside Valencia, Rangers and Bursaspor.
The summer months weren't particularly promising for United this year: there was little in the way of transfer activity, fuelling speculation that Sir Alex and the Glazer family aren't being entirely honest about the extent of the financial trouble at the club.
The only new recruits were Javier Hernández, who looked lively during the World Cup, and Bebé, the almost entirely mystifying Portuguese.
His signing is undoubtedly one of Ferguson's strangest acquisitions ever. No-one at the club had seen him play; Ferguson apparently relied solely on the recommendation of Carlos Quiroz.
While a manager trusting his two-time assistant is fair enough, why on earth did the club not sign him up a few weeks earlier, when they could have got him for free rather than £7 million?
In any case, the nature of the transfer doesn't really matter: he has been included in the Champions League squad, so let's hope his good pre-season form (presumably the reason he was purchased) translates into European goals.
The greatest cause for concern is probably the midfield. Owen Hargreaves has not made the squad, which suggests he will not be fit until the new year (if, indeed, he is ever fit again).
Another blow is the recent news that Michael Carrick will be out for three weeks and so will miss next week's tie against Rangers and the away game in Valencia on September 29.
In defence, Jonny Evans is performing admirably in the place of the injured Rio Ferdinand, but whether Ferguson considers him to be a permanent replacement for the ageing centre-half is another question.
Valencia, Spain's third-most successful side of all time, are certainly United's biggest challengers in group C, but they are not the team they were in the early part of this century, when they twice won La Liga. Last season they finished 28 points behind champions Barca, the equivalent of more than nine victories.
That said, they looked impressive in their 3-1 victory over Málaga in the first game of the season, though it took two goals from winger Joaquin in the last 20 minutes to win it, against this against a team who escaped relegation by just a couple of points last year.
Valencia have lost their two best players, Davids Villa and Silva to Barca and Man City respectively, but they have managed to hold onto wingers Juan Mata and Joaquin, and new signing Aritz Aduriz, who scored 12 for Mallorca last season, opened his account against Málaga.
Despite financial troubles, Rangers only lost three times last season, and not once at home. That shouldn't be a huge surprise, as they kept six clean sheets in the knockout stages of the 2008 UEFA Cup on their way to the final.
For the first time in several seasons, they've actually bought some players, including two strikers, £4 million Nikica Jelavić, Rangers' biggest signing in eight years, and Stoke City's James Beattie.
Another astute signing was the loan of Slovakian international midfielder Vladimír Weiss from Chelsea.
Rangers' greatest weaknesses though are at the back, from where geriatric David Weir captains the team.
Turkish champions Bursaspor are an unknown quantity to many. Prior to winning the title, they had never finished in the top three in Turkey's top league. Indeed, they were only re-promoted from the second division in 2006, after relegation in 2004.
They play an exciting, attacking 3-5-2, though whether they will continue with that style of football on their first foray into the Champions League remains to be seen.
The team is built on a solid core of Turkish gems (four of their players have recently been involved with the national side) and inspired signings of cast-offs from bigger clubs.