Manchester United have been pitted against Fenerbahce, Feyenoord and Zorya Luhansk in this season’s Europa League group stage.
Hoping to be number one in the competition come May, United were first out of the draw, Group A.
Joined by Turkish side and second seed Fenerbahce, this tie represents a reunion with former striker Robin van Persie, who was a major contributor to United’s last league title back in 2013.
Third seed Feyenoord will see a return to the Netherlands for Daley Blind and Memphis, who could come in for some hostility with the latter formerly of PSV Eindhoven and Blind notably an Ajax academy graduate.
As for fourth seed Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine, they currently ply their trade at the Slavutych-Arena in Zaporizhia due to the ongoing conflict in that part of the world.
They finished a respectable fourth place in the Ukrainian Premier League last term, a respectable feat finishing behind Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dnipro, regulars in Europe competition.
One advantage they will have is that they are currently halfway through their season, meaning match fitness could potentially be higher than the rest of the group.
The long travel won’t be of benefit to United, neither will the trip to Turkey to take on Fenerbahce, who trounced Swiss outfit Grasshoppers 5-0 in the play-off round and finished second in their respected league.
As for Feyenoord, they ended the season third behind the previously mentioned Ajax and PSV.
Playing Thursday nights in this competition before a Premier League fixture the following Sunday will not be ideal, particularly with the aforementioned travel, but Jose Mourinho will undoubtedly rotate his squad.
The Portuguese was keen for the arrival of September on the back of last week’s victory over Southampton, in order to give players as much game time as possible.
That victory saw the likes of Jesse Lingard, Memphis, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian, Michael Carrick and Timothy Fosu-Mensah not even named in the matchday squad, let alone the bench.
United’s pedigree in Europe is up there with the best, having won three European Cups/Champions Leagues, one Cup Winners Cup, one Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
However, they have never won the Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup, although most fans would point towards the fact that the club has primarily competed in the European Cup.
The Champions League is where everybody at the club wants to be at, but unfortunately, last season’s fifth place finish, missing out on fourth via goal difference, has seen the club landed with Thursday night football.
Still, this group is arguably stronger than some of this year’s Champions League groups with all due respect to some of the teams involved, and represents a good opportunity for United to lift the trophy for the first time.
With an extra knockout round than the Champions League, the congested fixture list is far from ideal should United reach that stage, but squad rotation should keep most members content.
Having never progressed further than the round of 16, is this the year United finally lift the Europa League?