Man United have put last season’s Champions League disappointment firmly behind them by becoming the first side to qualify from to the knock-out phase of the competition as group winners this time around.
Maximum points from four games have ensured the Red Devils a sought-after spot in the hat for the last-32 and, although they were undoubtedly drawn in the easiest group of the tournament, the aplomb in which they got the job done suggests the 8/1 they are to lift the trophy is a very good price.
Their 3-1 defeat of Braga last time out was perhaps a little harsh on the hosts, but the ruthlessness they’ve shown in front of goal outweighs the hindering effect their sometimes suspect defence has had on them thus far.
It’s evident that they’ll have to be more resolute at the back when taking on Europe’s big guns. They’ve gone behind in three of the four games they’ve played before coming back and winning in typical United fashion, but they can’t afford to let the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid take the lead then start chasing the game.
Cluj and Braga will inevitably crumble under the pressure of persisted onslaught, but the stronger sides can not only cope with this, they have the attacking prowess to exploit the space and turn a one-goal lead into an unassailable deficit.
United’s defence will improve as the campaign matures and with key players returning from injury, it’s likely they’ll kick their habit of falling behind in games, while they possess the necessary arsenal to hurt any team in the final-third.
The last time Sir Alex Ferguson’s men got their hands on the Champions League trophy in 2007/08 they raced out of the group-stage blocks too, winning their first four games and ensuring qualification at the earliest possible point.
They were qualified after four games ahead of making the final in 2010/11 too so the omens are good for a successful year in Europe ahead of Sir Alex’s claims this week that he wants to match Liverpool’s record of five Champions League wins.
All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date