The Champions League is the pinnacle of European club football, and is a stage every top footballer wants to test himself in. With Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Milan rivals and Bayern Munich to name but a few potential opponents, there are many glamour ties to be had. However, the group stages could throw up difficult games for theSir Alex Ferguson’s side not only due to the quality of opposition, but the location of some of the smaller teams, and the travel and amount of travel money required to get there. Here are a couple of potential sides that United will look to avoid come the draw for the group stages on August 25th.
Breadablik are the current Icelandic champions, winning the Premier Division for the first time in their 61 year history in 2010/11. The side are based in Kopavogur, just south of Rejkavik and play at the Kopavogsvollur Stadium, which houses a measly 5,000 supporters and has just over 1,000 seats. With the weather miserly in the winter and 0 degrees centigrade the norm in November and December, a trip to take on Breadablik would be one to avoid.
HJK Helsinki (Finland)
Finland’s most successful team HJK Helsinki won the Veikkausliga title for the second year running in 2010/11, and will enter the competition at the second qualifying round stage. The Sonera Stadium is cramped and close-knit, with a 10,000 capacity feeling claustrophobic as the fans are close to the pitch. Despite probably not causing The Reds too much trouble on the pitch, the Finnish champions have ex-Liverpool forward Jari Litmanen in their ranks, who still plays at the ripe age of 40.
Maccabi Haifa (Israel)
Israel’s champions Maccabi Haifa make for a daunting opponent given the distance away sides have to travel, and the on-going political problems in the country. Both Liverpool (2007) and Manchester United (2002) have drawn The Greens in previous European campaigns, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men getting beaten in their fixture. Despite Haifa being in the north of the country and away from hostilities further south, the city is on the Lebanon border and only 75 miles from Beirut, so if you are following your team to the game be sure to get travel insurance from the Post Office.
Turkey’s runners up Trabzonspor are based in the city of Trabzon in the North East of the country, and are right on the Black Sea. With the big three of Turkish football usually in the mix for the Champions League,the side from the Huseyin Avni Aker exceeded expectations in 2010/11 and almost won their first league title in 27 years, only to be ousted by Fenerbache on the last day of the season. With established players such as ex-Tottenham midfielder Didier Zokora in their ranks, the Turks would be no easy opponent next season.
The inhabitants of the Camp Nou or San Siro would be assured to give the Premier League champions a more rigorous workout on the pitch, but the sides above would be sure to provide a highly uncomfortable away fixture.
Gareth McKnight writes for Soccerlens.com.