Manchester United open their Champions League campaign at home against Bayer Leverkusen tonight, as David Moyes’ men look to take the first step on the road to Lisbon, after two disappointing seasons in Europe.
David Moyes will be in charge of Manchester United in a European game for the first time in his career, as the Scotsman makes his managerial debut in the competition proper, having previously managed Everton in their third qualifying round defeat against Villareal in the 2005-06 season.
United, who have not won in their last four European games, have lost their last two Champions League at Old Trafford and will hope to avoid losing three on the bounce on home turf in Europe’s elite competition for the first time in their history but will have to do so without the injured Phil Jones, Rafael and Chris Smalling, with Fabio expected to be selected at right-back again.
Leverkusen, who finished third in the Bundesliga last season, have lost six of their seven Champions League games played on English soil and have not won in their last 12 away games in the competition, managing only three draws and nine defeats since defeat Maccabi Haifa in 2002.
United are unbeaten against the Germans, winning two and drawing two, but the draws were extremely costly as the Reds were knocked out on away goals in the 2001-02 semifinals when a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford was followed by a 1-1 draw in Leverkusen which denied United a spot in the final and prevented Sir Alex Ferguson from leading out his team in a European Cup final in Glasgow.
With the season’s first Manchester derby looming large on the horizon, David Moyes might opt to rotate his squad, a policy which produced mixed results during Fergie’s last seasons, but the feeling is that the United manager will field a strong XI against a side that can’t be underestimated.
Jonny Evans could replace either Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic in the back four, with United’s centre-back pairing likely to be tested by the dangerous Stefan Kiessling. Last season’s Bundesliga top-scorer is a traditional centre-forward, physically strong and superb in the air and could pose a threat to United’s defence.
Marouane Fellaini is expected to make his Champions League debut and the Belgian’s physicality could prove to be a crucial asset against Leverkusen’s three-man midfield, in which Lars Bender, twin brother of Dortmund’s Sven, provides perpetual movement and countless tackles.
Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are again likely to be deployed in support of Robin Van Persie as United seek their sixth consecutive win at Old Trafford against a German club to kick off their 18th consecutive Champions League campaign in style.
Probable line-ups courtesy of whoscored.com
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