When group A was drawn for this year’s Champions League there was an almost audible sigh of relief from David Moyes. The Scotsman, embroiled in his first real crack at Europe, had avoided the big boys. From pot 2 there was no Paris St-Germain, no Juventus…just Shakhtar Donetsk. From pot 3 came Bayer Leverkusen, a dangerous outfit but by no means the strongest team from the pot. And then came the crowning moment, Real Sociedad. A team who had not played in the Champions League since the 2003/2004 season, a team which had as recently as 2009, been playing their football alongside the minnows of Spanish football in the Liga Adelante. So where’s the problem? Surely Manchester United should cruise through?
This group on paper appears much simpler then it really is. Let’s start from the bottom;
Pot 4 – Real Sociedad.
Finishing 4th in Spains top flight is no easy task and for a team of such limited resources to achieve it is remarkable. Add on that they played some of the most entertaining and eye-catching football in the division and you have one of the most exciting, young and emerging teams in Europe. Despite the loss of Philippe Montanier, the man which was at the helm of this success, they are still not a team to be underestimated, in fact they should be feared. A highly impressive 4-0 aggregate victory over Lyon in the Qualifying phases was led by the star men Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann. and demonstrated the potential that the Basque natives have to go head to head with some of Europe’s heavyweights. If these 2 and the rest of this very talented Sociedad squad can find their feet then the Anoeta will be no easy visit, neither will there be any chance to rest key players in the return game at Old Trafford.
Pot 3 – Bayer Leverkusen.
Perhaps the weakest team in the group, but once again it would be dangerous to underestimate any team containing the goalscoring potential of Stefan Kießling, a man who netted 25 league goals last season and has picked up where he left off with 4 goals in the opening 5 games. Of course the loss of André Schürrle will have damaged Leverkusen’s case to reach the knockout rounds but they will cause problems if David Moyes doesn’t show them the respect that they deserve. Chelsea can tell you the damage that the Germans can do with a 2-1 loss in 2011 almost ending their hopes of qualification. Will Manchester United fall victim of the same fate? You wouldn’t be surprised.
Pot 2 – Shakhtar Donetsk.
One of Europe’s most dangerous counter-attacking teams, many argue they only fall behind Borussia Dortmund in their ability to break quick and punish on the break. Coached by one of Europes most talented coaches, Mircea Lucescu, Shakhtar have created a self-sustainable outfit which despite the regular loss of it’s best players (Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan this year) manage to over-achieve in Europe year in, year out. Cherry-picking South America’s finest talent has become the business for the Ukrainian champions and with the additions of players such as Bernard they look well equipped for another assault on Europe’s premier competition. Shakhtar have the coach, the players and they WILL cause problems for David Moyes. How does he combat the pace? How does he stop the fluent breakaways? How does he get the win without throwing it away? These are all questions Moyes will have to answer if he’s to be successful.
It all began tonight when Manchester United welcomed Bayer Leverkusen to Old Trafford. The win at home to the Germans has not decided the group, nor was it their fiercest test. But will have given them confidence and set the tone for trying to escape a group which is packed with some of Europe’s most exciting teams.
Good luck David, you’ll need it.