MX23RW : Thursday, December 13 04:42:13

Manchester United's potential Champions League qualifying opponents

Sports Mole takes a closer look at the sides that Manchester United may face in the 2015-16 Champions League qualifiers.

Louis van Gaal may have guided Manchester United back into the top four of the Premier League, but there is work to be done in August before their place in the group stages of next season's Champions League is confirmed.

The Red Devils still have to negotiate their way through a playoff round, for which they will be seeded along with Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk and Ajax.

However, while Van Gaal's men will avoid that quartet, there are 10 teams that could potentially stand between United and place in the last 32 of the competition.

Here, with most of the leagues across the continent having now concluded, Sports Mole has taken a look at the clubs in question, some of which could prove to be tricky opponents for the three-time European champions.

CSKA Moscow

CSKA Moscow players line up ahead of the Champions League tie against Manchester City on October 21, 2014© Getty Images

Having finished second to Andre Villas-Boas's Zenit St Petersburg in the Russian Premier League, it will be the playoffs for CSKA. The men from Moscow have plenty of Champions League experience and even claimed four points from their group encounters with United's rivals Manchester City during last season's group stages. A trip to Russia often throws up difficulties for English clubs.

Club Brugge

Tom De Sutter #9 of Club Brugge celebrates scoring his teams first goal of the game with team mates during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st leg match between Club Brugge KV and Besiktas JK held at the Jan Breydel Stadium on March 12, 2015© Getty Images

Under the guidance of former Belgium international goalkeeper Michel Preud'homme, Brugge topped the Belgian Pro League, only to then finish runners-up in the playoffs that followed. Nevertheless, they have a chance to qualify for the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2005, when they claimed a credible draw with Bayern Munich.


General view of Sukru Saracoglu, home of Fenerbahce SK taken during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between Fenerbahce SK and Olympique de Marseille on September 20, 2012© Getty Images

Ever since United made their first trip to Turkey to face Galatasaray in 1993, they have often found it difficult to contend with sides from the Eastern European nation. Of their four previous meetings with Fenerbahce, the sides have recorded two wins apiece. One of United's victories saw Wayne Rooney score a hat-trick on his debut. Last season, Fener finished second to Istanbul rivals Galatasaray in the Super Lig.


Marco Parolo of Lazio celebrated the goal of 1-3 during the Serie A match between Cagliari Calcio and SS Lazio at Stadio Sant'Elia on April 4, 2015© Getty Images

An entertaining 4-2 victory over Napoli last night handed Lazio their first opportunity to play in the Champions League group stages since the 2007-08 campaign. While they may not boast the ilk of players that they once did - Juan Sebastian Veron, Alessandro Nesta, Pavel Nedved et al - they do still possess a hard-working unit. Off the pitch, United supporters will be hoping to avoid a trip to Rome, having encountered problems in the Italian capital in recent visits.


Monaco's Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov (R) celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match against Arsenal  on February 25, 2015© Getty Images

They may not appear in the Champions League often, but when they do, Monaco tend to make a lasting impression. Last season they shocked Arsenal in the round of 16, while in 2004 they beat the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea en route to the final, where they were defeated by Jose Mourinho's Porto. Ligue 1's third-placed side also have previous history with United, having knocked them out on the away goals rule in the quarter-finals in 1998 thanks to a young David Trezeguet.


Panathinaikos Athens players and fans celebrate their goal against PSV Eindhoven during their group E UEFA Europa League match at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium in Athens on November 6, 2014© Getty Images

Although they have not officially confirmed their place in the Champions League playoffs, Panathinaikos have an eight-point lead at the top of the Greek Super League European playoffs with just three matches left to play. While a trip to Greece would be a lengthy one, United do at least have a positive record against the Greek club, having won three of the four clashes between the two sides. Goalkeeper Luke Steele, who was a trainee at United, is a member of the playing staff at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium.

Rapid Vienna

The lowest ranked club (121st) at this stage of the competition, Rapid finished second in the Austrian Bundesliga, six points adrift of Salzburg. In young Slovenian Robert Beric they have a striker that scored 27 goals in his 33 outings last term. United fans of a certain age may remember their side's clash against the Austrians back in 1996, during which Peter Schmeichel made one of the most memorable saves of his career.

Sparta Prague

Sparta Prague's Czech midfielder Josef Husbauer (2ndR) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the UEFA Europa League Group I football match against SSC Napoli on September 18, 2014© Getty Images

Not since the 2005-06 campaign have the Czech Republic's biggest club played in the group stages of the Champions League, with four botched attempts in the playoffs since then. From their 20 matches against English opposition, Iron Sparta have won just three times, with 13 defeats. One of those losses came at the hands of United in November 2004 when Ruud van Nistelrooy scored all the English side's goals in a 4-1 win.

Sporting Lisbon

Sporting's Brazilian defender Jefferson Nascimento celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League football match Sporting Clube de Portugal vs FC Schalke 04 at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon on November 5, 2014© Getty Images

Particularly during Sir Alex Ferguson's stint at the helm, United and their Portuguese counterparts shared a positive relationship. Such an understanding allowed the Red Devils to beat off stiff competition to sign Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003 and then Nani four years later. In the Primeira Liga it was a disappointing campaign for Sporting, who finished in third behind rivals Benfica and Porto. In the four meetings between United and Sporting, the English side have won three of them.

Young Boys

Young Boys' French forward Guillaume Hoarau gestures as he celebrates his team's first goal with teammate Swiss defender Steve von Bergen during the UEFA Europa League Group I football match between BSC Young Boys and SSC Napoli in Bern on October 23, 201© Getty Images

The Swiss side may have never reached the Champions League group stages, but they have been making a name for themselves in the Europa League in recent seasons. Perhaps they are best remembered, though, for blowing a 3-0 lead against Tottenham Hotspur in a 2010 Champions League qualifier to eventually lose 6-3 on aggregate. Last season, they finished well adrift of champions Basel in the Swiss Super League.

Despite being seeded, Shakhtar and Ajax will have a second-round qualifier to play. Should either of them lose out, Sporting will be seeded for the third-round qualifiers. If they both were beaten, CSKA would also be seeded.

United will learn their fate when the draw is made on August 7, with the two ties being played on August 18/19 and 25/26. The new Premier League season is scheduled to start on August 8.

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Real Madrid's Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Manchester United during their UEFA Champions League quarter final 2nd leg at Old Trafford in Manchester 23 April 2003
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