ARTICLES Match Previews

A look at Manchester United’s 2021/22 Champions League group-stage opponents

Manchester United’s European campaign last season was ultimately very disappointing. United crashed out of the Champions League group stage in dramatic fashion, losing 3-2 away to RB Leipzig in a game they had to win.

After such a promising start for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team, which included a memorable away against Paris Saint Germain and a first club hattrick for Marcus Rashford against the previously mentioned German outfit, United fell away towards the end of the group stage, eventually being knocked out, and qualifying for the Europa League.  

Even then, United’s Europa League campaign ended in disappointment. Despite reaching the final in Gdansk, United lost on penalties to Villarreal. That night was one of United’s worst in recent years.

Incidentally, Villarreal has been drawn in United’s group for this season’s Champions League. Alongside the Spanish side, Italian team Atalanta, and Swiss outfit BSC Young Boys join United in Group F.  

The 2021/22 Champions League presents United with a chance at European redemption. The Red Devils’ summer signings have undoubtedly improved the European pedigree of the squad.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane are both Champions League winners on multiple occasions, and Jadon Sancho, one of the world’s best young wingers, is already proven at this level. These three additions, on top of players such as Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba, leave United much better placed to mount a challenge this season.

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Here is a look at United’s 2021/22 group stage opponents in a bit more detail.  

Villarreal – Spain

Qualification Route

Villarreal earned a place in the Champions League after winning the 2020/21 Europa League. 

Last Meeting

United last met Villarreal in the final in Poland, agonisingly losing 11-10 on penalties. That was a night that United fans would rather forget. United, however, have the chance to exact revenge on Villareal when they meet in the Champions League, with the first game at Old Trafford on 29th September. 

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Striker Gerard Moreno took home the player of the tournament award from last season’s Europa League. An impressive overall campaign for Moreno was topped off with the opening goal in the final. He finished the 2020/21 season on 30 goals from 46 games.

Moreno is a player who could cause problems for United’s defence when the two sides meet again this season.

Atalanta – Italy 

Qualification Route

Atalanta secured a place in this season’s Champions League through the league. They finished third in Serie A, just one point behind AC Milan in second. Overall, they had a strong league campaign. 

Last Meeting

Incredibly, United have never played Atalanta in a competitive match before, meaning the game at Old Trafford on October 20th will be a historic meeting for the two teams. Of all United players, the one who will be most looking forward to this meeting is surely Amad.

The Ivorian winger came through the ranks at Atalanta, before joining United last season. Although he is currently injured, this is no doubt an opponent that Amad would love to face. Whilst it is touch and go for him to be available for selection at Old Trafford, he should be ready for the visit to Italy, if called upon by Solskjær.

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Atalanta is a team filled with quality players. Both of their wingbacks, Joakim Mæhle and Robin Gosens, are very dangerous players, and showed their class at Euro 2020, for Denmark and Germany respectively.

Columbian striker Luis Muriel is also someone to be wary of. He has a natural goalscoring ability, and his pace could be problematic for United. The 30-year-old scored 22 goals and assisted nine in Serie A last season.   

BSC Young Boys – Switzerland 

Qualification Route

Young Boys qualified for this season’s group stage through the qualification rounds. They beat Slovan BratislavaCFR Cluj and Ferencváros, across two legs each time, on their way to qualifying for the Champions League.  

Last Meeting

United have only played against Young Boys competitively twice, in the group stages of the 2018/19 Champions League. The Red Devils won in Switzerland and at Old Trafford against Young Boys last time out. The away game was especially memorable for Paul Pogba.

As well as captaining United that day, the Frenchman got himself on the scoresheet twice, and assisted Anthony Martial, to help earn a 0-3 win. The home game, which was played after the away trip, was won 1-0 by United, thanks to a late winner from Marouane Fellaini

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25-year-old striker Jordan Siebatcheu has made an excellent start to the 2021/22 season The American international has already scored six goals in just 11 games so far, with an equal 3 goal split between the Champions League and the Swiss Super League.

Siebatcheu is often a big ariel threat, already scoring two of his six goals this season with his head. Although United have players capable of dealing with his presence in the air, he is certainly not to be underestimated when a cross is delivered.

A chance for glory

United begin their campaign in Switzerland on 14th September. Hopefully, Solskjær’s side can kick off this season’s Champions League campaign in perfect fashion, returning to Manchester with all three points.

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