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Champions League success a million miles away for Manchester United

20 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Champions League success a million miles away for Manchester United

Victory at CSKA Moscow would be encouraging for Louis van Gaal's side, but re-establishing themselves as a European force remains some way off

Ask a Manchester United supporter about the club’s progress and they’ll probably tell you their team is still finding its way.

Overall, it has been an encouraging start to the new campaign for the club, who will have one eye on a potential Premier League title challenge.

But the Champions League is a different matter altogether.

When Louis van Gaal took over the club in the summer of 2014, not even he would have expected to inherit such a disjointed side.

So damaging was David Moyes’ time as manager, the Dutchman described his new side as ‘broken’ before suggesting it would have been easier to have succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson.

The immediate target was a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League, with the club’s accountants – as much as the fans – knowing how much damage a second season outside of Europe’s elite competition could do.

Van Gaal succeeded, but now comes an even bigger task and one that even the former Netherlands manager will struggle to achieve: re-establishing the club as a European force.

When United were handed a favourable Champions League draw alongside PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg, many thought it would be a cake-walk for the three-time European champions.

But as their opening-week humbling to the technically-proficient PSV showed, this United team is far from the continent’s best.

The addition of Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield has instilled some necessary steel, Memphis Depay offers an attacking threat – even if he struggles to consistently show it – and Anthony Martial is more lethal than Wayne Rooney nowadays.

But, largely, this hasn’t translated from domestic to continental competition.

Victory last time out over Wolfsburg was a step in the right direction, but the German club’s struggles this season – especially following the departure of Kevin De Bruyne – shows it was a match that offered no indication of where United really are.

That test will likely come on Wednesday evening against CSKA Moscow.

The Russian giants were unfortunate against Wolfsburg in their opening-round defeat, but their own performance against PSV in a 3-2 win last time out – particularly the first half – suggests they will be difficult opponents for United.

CSKA are unbeaten in their last five home European matches, so it is a little surprising they are 15/8 to win, while United are 7/5.

The last time these two sides met on Russian soil was in 2009, with United running out 1-0 victors courtesy of an Antonio Valencia strike.

The Red Devils are 7/1 to win by the same scoreline this time around.

United may have warmed up for this clash with a comprehensive victory over Everton, but even then there remained elements of doubt in their defence.

Chris Smalling has become the assured defender he always looked capable of, but those around him continue to exude uncertainty.

Seydou Doumbia is the likeliest player to exploit that, especially after his hat-trick against PSV.

He has five strikes in Europe so far and it is little surprise he is joint-favourite with Martial and Rooney to open the scoring at 11/2, with the trio also a tempting 7/4 to find the net at any time.

Not that CSKA are not prone to their own defensive lapses.

Their backline has shipped five goals in their last two domestic matches – including twice at the weekend – and they have looked far from assured themselves in their European adventures this season.

As such, United are 7/2 to win with both sides scoring, with CSKA 17/4 to do the same.

While victory would be encouraging for Van Gaal’s side, they remain a damaged force in the hierarchy of football, albeit one capable of re-establishing itself.

And even though they should still get out of a group they were expected to top, for now, the club needs to continue focusing on domestic endeavours rather than pie-in-the-sky European glory.

CSKA Moscow v Manchester United betting

Champions League betting

READ: Rob Burnett: Manchester City won’t be among the elite until they win in Europe