FOOTBALL NEWS

29/08/2012 23:46, Report by Nick Coppack
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Reds set for European draw

Manchester United's three opponents in the Champions League group stages will be confirmed when the draw takes place in Monaco on Thursday afternoon (from 16:45 BST).

Whoever the Reds are bundled with, qualification to the knockout phase will be the minimum target after a disappointing 2011/12 campaign when United failed to progress past the group stage - and later bowed out of the Europa League at the hands of Athletic Club.

“We're better than that,” Sir Alex told us over the summer. “That won't happen again. We'll qualify from the group stages. I'll make sure of it. We need to make a statement and show everybody last season was just a blip.”

Here, we cast an eye over the draw's four pots to see where the potential pitfalls lie...

Pot 1: Chelsea, Barcelona, United, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Porto, AC Milan
Each group (A to H) is populated with one team from each pot, so United are at least assured of avoiding all the above “big guns”.

Pot 2: Valencia, Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St Petersburg, Schalke, Manchester City, Braga, Dynamo Kyiv
We can rule out Manchester City for starters. UEFA rules stipulate teams from the same association can’t be drawn against each other in the group stages. Of the remaining seven clubs, Sir Alex will want to avoid long trips to St Petersburg, Kyiv and Donetsk, while the Reds twice failed to beat Benfica in last season’s competition. United have beaten both Valencia and Schalke in recent seasons, with Braga the only “surprise” element here: the Reds and the Portuguese outfit have never met.

Pot 3: Ajax, Anderlecht, Juventus, PSG, Olympiacos, Lille, Galatasaray, Spartak Moscow
Between them, Ajax and Juventus have won the competition six times, so there's plenty of European heritage here. Nobody will want to draw big-money spenders Paris

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