Man Utd will face PSG in the Champions League this season | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
Manchester United were presented with a tough challenge when the draw for the 2020/21 Champions League group stage was made this week, pitted alongside Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir.
Back in the competition, the first task will simply be getting through the opening phase against two of last season’s semi-finalists and an ambitious first time qualifier.
Here’s a closer look at all three of United’s Champions League opponents.
Last Season at Home: The 2019/20 campaign yielded a fourth domestic treble for PSG in the space of six years thanks to Ligue 1, Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue triumphs again. The Ligue 1 title was awarded on points per game basis after the French season was abandoned early.
Last Season in Europe: Champions League glory remains the elusive ultimate goal for PSG and they went further than ever before by reaching the 2020 final, losing only narrowly to Bayern Munich. They had earlier topped a group with Real Madrid and beat Dortmund, Atalanta and RB Leipzig.
Neymar & PSG were beaten Champions League finalists in 2020 | Pool/Getty Images
Major Summer Business: Comings and goings have been minimal in the French capital, with back-up goalkeeper Sergio Rico and right-back Alessandro Florenzi the only new faces. Mauro Icardi’s loan has been made permanent, while Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani have moved on.
Key Players: Look no further than Kylian Mbappe, whose pace and electric movement will cause huge problems for United. A fit Neymar will be a different proposition as well because he didn’t feature in either game against United in 2019. There will also be a first reunion with former fan favourite Ander Herrera, and a second for the not so fondly remembered Angel Di Maria.
Coach: Thomas Tuchel – The 47-year-old German is kicking off his third season in the PSG hotseat and has already taken them further in Europe than any of his predecessors.
Thomas Tuchel has been in charge since 2018 | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
2020/21 Expectations: Having come so close last season, PSG will be even more determined to go all the way in the Champions League. That greater hunger makes them all the more threatening.
Any Other Business: PSG have a habit of starting well in the competition and have progressed from the group stage in each of the last eight seasons since they returned to this level. They have topped their group in five of those years and have scored 59 goals in their last 18 group games.
Last Season at Home: Despite leading the Bundesliga beyond the halfway stage of last season, Leipzig dropped too many points in January, February and March, slipping down the table to eventually finish third behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Last Season in Europe: In only their second ever season in the Champions League, Leipzig went all the way to the semi-finals, before losing to PSG in the mini-tournament. They had topped a relatively straightforward group but then beat Tottenham and Atletico Madrid in the knockouts.
Leipzig knocked Tottenham out of last season’s Champions League | ANP Sport/Getty Images
Major Summer Business: Timo Werner was sold to Chelsea for €50m before the end of last season, while fellow forward Patrik Schick has left following his loan from Roma. The Werner money has been re-invested in €20m striker Alexander Sorloth and Salzburg star Hwang Hee-chan.
Key Players: Shedding the tag of Crystal Palace flop, Sorloth scored 33 goals in all competitions last season for Trabzonspor and will immediately become an important asset in the quest to replace Werner. Hwang, meanwhile, impressed in the Champions League last season. Marcel Sabitzer, Dayot Upamecano and Peter Gulacsi make up an impressive spine.
Coach: Julian Nagelsmann – The 33-year-old is nicknamed ‘Baby Mourinho’ and has been coaching at a top level in Germany since he was just 28. Has been linked with United in the relatively recent past.
Julian Nagelsmann has been linked with Man Utd | DeFodi Images/Getty Images
2020/21 Expectations: The 2019/20 season was utterly unique and Leipzig may be hard pressed to repeat their last four appearance. But at least getting into the knockouts will be a minimum aim.
Any Other Business: This season is actually Leipzig’s first as a top flight club without Werner, who was signed in 2016 upon promotion to the Bundesliga. He scored at least 20 goals in all competitions every season he was with the club and replacing him is easier said than done.
Last Season at Home: Istanbul were crowned Turkish Super Lig champions for the first time in 2019/20, having been knocking on the door for the past few years. They are only the sixth different club ever to win Turkey’s top flight, such has been the status quo.
Last Season in Europe: The 2019/20 season represented Istanbul’s best ever showing in European competition, having progressed as far as the Europa League round of 16, losing out to Copenhagen one round before the Danes actually faced United.
Istanbul were close to facing Man Utd in the Europa League last season | STRINGER/Getty Images
Major Summer Business: Istanbul have dispensed with several of the older veteran players they had become known for, releasing Robinho, Eljero Elia, Gael Clichy and Gokhan Inler over summer. Ex-United defender Rafael has joined, as has ex-Spurs winger Nacer Chadli.
Key Players: The goals were split fairly evenly last season between attacking trio Edin Visca, Enzo Crivelli and former Premier League forward Demba Ba. Visca is the main danger as top scorer and chief creative force. Martin Skrtel and Mehmet Topal offer plenty of experience further back in defence and midfield respectively.
Coach: Istanbul are led by Galatasaray and Turkey legend Okan Buruk, who finished his own playing career with the club in 2010. He was appointed in 2019 and brought the previously elusive title.
Turkey legend Okan Buruk is the man in charge | Gualter Fatia/Getty Images
2020/21 Expectations: Just being in the Champions League group stage for the first time after their maiden domestic title is a huge achievement for Istanbul in itself. They are an ambitious club and will hope to cause an upset, but reaching the knockout rounds is unlikely.
Any Other Business: Istanbul have enjoyed a meteoric rise, having been an amateur club until 1990. They were first promoted to the Super Lig in 2007 and have only been continuously in the top flight since 2014, but have not finished lower than fourth in those years.
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