Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Cole reacts to Champions League draw

Friday 27 August 2021 10:49

Now that the draw for the group stage of this season’s Champions League is done, former Manchester United striker Andy Cole cannot wait for the competition to kick off next month.

The Reds were placed with Europa League winners Villarreal, Italian side Atalanta and Swiss outfit Young Boys in Group F during Thursday evening's event in Istanbul.

It is a group that promises plenty of intrigue on the pitch for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, while the return of supporters to Old Trafford in European football’s premier club competition this season will no doubt provide the all-round authentic Champions League experience for everyone involved on those midweek nights. 

That is something Cole knows plenty about from his time at United, as a competition that he enjoyed some of his greatest nights in a red shirt playing in, with that triumphant 1999 final no doubt the highlight. 

Fast forward to 2021, and our former no.9 is eagerly anticipating the tournament’s group stage getting under way, and with it, its return to a packed Old Trafford over the coming months. 

“It will be real special and if you speak to the boys who retired playing, Champions League football is what they really miss,” Cole told UEFA following Thursday’s draw. 

“The music, the dew on the grass, the crowd, everything. It’s such a special competition. 

“I’m really looking forward to it, I’m looking forward to the crowd getting behind the team and the Champions League anthem – for me that would never ever change.”
With the exact dates and times of United’s six fixtures to be confirmed by UEFA by Saturday lunchtime, it remains unknown who the first visitors to our M16 home will be in this season’s tournament. 

Of course, one thing that we do know following the draw is the teams that we will play across the group-stage matchdays, and that includes an opportunity of some potential revenge on Villarreal, who edged us out in last season’s Europa League final. 

Cole does not think that is the case however, believing Solskjaer’s Reds will just be determined to come out on top for the points, in what he insists will be two close contests, rather than to get one back on the Spanish side. 

“I think naturally everyone is disappointed they didn’t win the final but if you look at the two teams, Manchester United have played Villarreal a few times and the games have always been very tight," he said.

“Of course, they’ll want to win the game home and away, but I don’t think there’ll be any added spice due to the fact that they lost that final. Penalties are a lottery and Villarreal that night were very good at penalties.”

In detail: Our 2021/22 Champions League opponents


Here's the deep dive on the other teams in Group F and whether we've faced them before.

Atalanta were drawn into the group from Pot Three and it means that the Reds will have new opponents in this season’s competition having never faced the Italians before. 

Cole has been impressed with what he has seen from a side registered a top-three finish in Serie A last season. 

“I like watching them play," he said. "I like the way they get the ball down, pass it around, they play with a lot of cutting edge.

“They play with a good tempo, create chances and they’ve done very well in Serie A. I know Manchester United know that will be a real tough game because they’ve got some real talented players in that squad. 

“It’s the kind of game I’m looking forward to, just like all the games in the Champions League, because as we know, the Champions League is so special.”
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Young Boys complete the group, a more familiar outfit to United, after we faced them in the same stage of the 2018/19 competition. 

Paul Pogba (2) and Anthony Martial got on the scoresheet as we registered a 3-0 victory over in Switzerland before Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time winner broke the deadlock to ensure we would take all the points in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford two months later. 

Despite those victories three seasons ago, Cole has warned that the reigning Swiss Super League champions will provide two tough tests for the Reds come the autumn and winter. 

“I think when you’re at this level, there is no underdogs and that’s why we love the Champions League. 

“A team like Young Boys, on their day, can beat Manchester United and vice-versa but I don’t think you can ever go into a game and think you’ll suit playing against a team. 

“It’s 11 v 11, Young Boys will be trying just as hard as Manchester United will be to get the points and it will be a real tough game, home and away.”