London: Surprisingly eliminated from last season’s group stage, Manchester United won’t be underestimating their seemingly easy start to the Champions League this time around.
United open their campaign at home to Galatarsaray on Wednesday and also have Braga and Cluj in what should be a comfortable group for the three-time champions.
But last year, FC Basel and Benfica finished ahead of United in one of the biggest shocks in the Champions League. “
If we don’t go through, we will be criticised and pilloried for it and quite rightly,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “We’ve had our warning and I don’t anticipate going out this time. Certainly, we’ll do better than last year - no question about that.”
United have a memorable history with Galatasaray, with fans of the Turkish club greeting their English counterparts with the banner “Welcome to Hell” when Ferguson’s side visited Istanbul for a European match in 1993.
“I remember it vividly. It’s one of those memories that will always stick with you,” United midfielder Ryan Giggs said.
“There were things thrown at us when we were driving away on the coach, fans outside the hotel chanting all night making sure we didn’t get any sleep and people phoning the hotel rooms. It had everything.”
Galatasaray should be the one having an uncomfortable night on Wednesday. United have won their last three matches in the Premier League to climb to second place behind Chelsea, while new striker Robin van Persie will be refreshed about being rested for the 4-0 win against Wigan on Saturday.
Wayne Rooney is still out with a gashed leg but with Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, Van Persie — a scorer of four goals in four league appearances for United — isn’t short of strike partners.
With captain and defender Nemanja Vidic back, United have a squad capable of going all the way and improving what Ferguson often says is an unsatisfactory number of titles in the European Cup or Champions League for such a big club.
Braga, who are sixth in the Portuguese league, are playing in their second Champions League campaign after beating Italian side Udinese on penalties in the playoffs.
In Group G, Tito Vilanova is quietly stamping his authority on the Barcelona team and they head into their Champions League Group G opener at home to Spartak Moscow on Wednesday with La Liga’s only perfect record.