United Draw SL Benfica, FC Basel And CSKA Moscow

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Manchester United have been drawn alongside SL Benfica, FC Basel and CSKA Moscow in this season’s Champions League.

Group A will contain the above sides who will be looking to progress into next year’s knockout phase.

In what could be described as an open group, United will be content with their pairings, although wary not to underestimate their fellow professionals.

Despite many already bemoaned the so-called ease at the group for United, all three opposition were involved in the last two occasions the club exited at the group stage.

Benfica and Basel both pipped United to the top two places in the 2011/12 edition whilst CSKA Moscow joined Louis van Gaal’s side in an early elimination two years ago.

Nonetheless, this is a group United will look to top, as they return to European’s elite club competition having secured victory in May’s Europa League final.

That 2-0 victory over AFC Ajax meant Jose Mourinho’s side will compete alongside Europe’s best despite their sixth placed Premier League finish.

The trip to Moscow will not be ideal travel wise but will rekindle memories of that night in 2008 when the club’s third European Cup was lifted after a penalty shootout victory over Chelsea.

Fellow domestic rivals Chelsea are one of five English sides and six British clubs that will be participating in this season’s competition.

Portuguese Champions and top seed Benfica will see a return for Mourinho and new signings Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof; the latter joining directly from Benfica in June.

The good relations between the clubs will be on show and the 1968 final will undoubtedly be mentioned after the 4-1 extra time triumph at Wembley gave United their maiden European crown.

As for Basel, the Swiss side defeated United 2-1 in December 2011 as the latter crashed into the Europa League after finishing third in such group.

Mourinho himself will be looking for his third Champions League after impressive victories with FC Porto in 2004, defeating United on their way, and with Inter Milan in 2010, defeating Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich in the final.

Winning such a prestigious crown with a third different club will certainly drive the manager to succeed.

The road to Kiev begins on Tuesday 12 September when Basel will visit Old Trafford, before trips to CSKA and Benfica, the return of Benfica, an away tie in Switzerland before welcoming CSKA to round off the group phase in early December.

Pitting themselves amongst the kind of quality involved in the Champions League will add extra motivation to an already hungry squad, who welcome back Zlatan Ibrahimovic after his remarkable speedy recovery from injury.

It is yet to be determined whether or not Zlatan will be available to return in time for the group stage but his presence around the club can have the same positive affect as last season, scoring 28 goals across all competitions on the field.

In other news, Championship side Burton Albion will be the visitors to Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup third round as United will aim to defend the trophy they lifted back in February.

A return to the Champions League will certainly be special and United will be raring to go next month under the lights of the Theatre of Dreams.

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