Today we look at Group F which features defending English Premier League champs Manchester United, Roma, Sporting Lisbon and Dynamo Kiev. The group looks like ti should belong to the favourites and it will be a battle between Sporting Lison and Dynamo Kyiv for the UEFA Cup berth.
How they got here: Finished first in English Premier League, automatic berth into group stage of CL
Previous Best Showing: Won the competition in 1998-99, have struggled to get past the semi-final stage since then.
Strengths: Deep midfield
Good mix of veterans and young players
Weaknesses: Too many similar styled players
Currently lacking a reliable centre forward
Injuries mounting in defense
X-Factor: Louis Saha. As alluded to above, Louis Saha is a good centre forward but with his history of injuries United cannot bank on his presence and this becomes an issue for the club. They have struggled to create goals in the early part of the season mostly due to the balance of the squad being too heavily slanted in favour of players who are more comfortable operating wide or from deeper areas in behind the striker. For a Tevez, Rooney, Nani, Giggs or Scholes to be effective, they need a target man up front to work with. Saha can play that role but needs to stay healthy and have a good run in the side.
How they’ll fare: I don’t see them being knocked out but they may not top the group either. A second-place finish and a place in the next round would suffice, anything less would be viewed as a major disappointment.
Big summer signing: There were several but that has had the most impact so far is Nani (signed from Sporting Lisbon for 16-18m euros). Nani has contributed from open play and from set-pieces so far this season but much like Cristiano Ronaldo, he needs a little time to mature before we will see the most out of his potential. He’s a dynamic player and actually looks like the price tag may not be so unreasonable.
Star Performer: Paul Scholes. Scholes can be a frustrating player at times but his return to health last season was one of the reasons United marched to the Premier League title. He’s very calm and intelligent on the ball, rarely wastes possession in the first two-thirds of the field and can score a few goals as well. Those qualities are more enough to overlook the few shanked shots and poorly timed challenges that also seem to be a part of his regular match performance. Having Owen Hargreaves or Michael Carrick as a partner in central midfield has allowed him to venture forward more often and complement the wingers.