Manchester United will play Valencia, Rangers and Bursaspor in the Champions League Group C after the draw held at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco today. The draw means Sir Alex Ferguson will return to Glasgow where he played 41 league games scoring 25 goals. United last faced Rangers in the 2002-3 season, winning home and away.
The draw, hosted by former Miss Switzerland Melanie Winiger and Pedro Pinto, former sports anchor for CNN International, with UEFA general-secretary Gianni Infantino and Competitions Director Giorgio Marchetti, precedes tomorrow nights European Super Cup at Stade Louis II between Atletico Madrid and Internazionale.
United beat Rangers 1-0 at Ibrox and 3-0 at Old Trafford seven years ago, and the draw will bring Ferguson head-to-head with former assistant manager Walter Smith, in his final season as Rangers’ boss. The Scottish club, in financial difficulties, will simply be grateful to take part with an estimated £15 million heading the club’s way in appearance money and gate receipts for reaching the group stage.
“It’s going to be interesting, I think its a good draw for us,” said Glazer stooge and United ceo David Gill, rather blandly.
“Obviously the Rangers connection is there. We played them in 2003/4 and Sir Alex and Walter Smith go back a very long way. It’ll be a great atmosphere and a great occasion. I’ve already spoke to Alex and he’s looking forward to it.
“Nobody is thinking about [reaching the Wembley final] at this stage. As we know, no team has retained the title in its current format, which demonstrates how competitive it is. It’s a great competition.”
The Reds also face a tough double-header with Valencia, who came third in last season’s La Liga but lost two key players in David Silva and David Villa over the summer amid financial problems at the Mestalla. Los Che is about £500 million in debt, with a new 75,000 seater stadium planned but not yet built on the Costa del Azahar. Indeed, the club faces a battle for its very survival.
Out of pot 4 came Turkish champions Bursaspor, with the usual ‘welcome to hell’ clichés that a trip to Turkey entails these days. Bursaspor won Süper Lig for the first time last season, having only been founded in 1963. United will hardly relish the lengthy trip to Anatolia despite the victory over Beşiktaş in last season’s competition.
Ferguson though is content with the draw, which includes just one long away trip and six winnable fixtures. United lost five matches in the Premier League after European away trips last season, including both matches against champions Chelsea.
“You can’t complain about that, it’s a good draw for us. You always look at the travelling side of it and the only one that’s of any great distance is the trip to Turkey,” the United manager told ManUtd.com.
“Walter Smith’s already been on the phone, talking about tickets for Old Trafford! Like me, he’s really looking forward to our games against each other.”
United open with a Rangers at home on 14 September and close the campaign with another Old Trafford game, against Valencia on 7 December. Sir Alex will delight that United’s upcoming fixtures against Liverpool and Arsenal each follow home European matches.
The group stages, once again played over 12 nights, will take place on 14/15 September, 28/29 September, 19/20 October, 2/3 November, 23/24 November, 7/8 December.. The ten winners in the play-off round ties join 22 automatic entrants in the 32-team group stage. The clubs are split into eight groups of four teams, with two teams from each section advancing to the first knockout round.
The round of 16 takes place between 13 February to 16 March 2011, quarter-finals 5-13 April, and semis 26 April to 4 May. The final is at Wembley on 28 May 2011.
Extra officials will be used in the Champions League this year, following an experiment in the Europa League last season. A fifth and sixth “additional assistant referee” will stand behind each goal line as UEFA joins FIFA in resisting the march of technology in football.
Tuesday 14 September, Glasgow Rangers (H)
Wednesday 29 September, Valencia (A)
Wednesday 20 October, Bursaspor (H)
Tuesday 2 November, Bursaspor (A)
Wednesday 24 November, Glasgow Rangers (A)
Tuesday 7 December, Valencia (H)
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