Manchester United is gearing up for their return to the Champions League, facing Bayern Munich in a matchup that marks their first appearance in the competition since their elimination by Atletico Madrid in the 2021/22 season.
The Reds secured their place in the group stages after finishing third in the Premier League last season. In their upcoming campaign, they will compete against Bayern, Copenhagen, and Galatasaray, marking a welcome return to the premier European club competition following a year away. Their hiatus came after a challenging 2021-22 season, which saw them finish sixth under the management of Ralf Rangnick. However, under the guidance of manager Erik ten Hag, who has been at the helm for just over a year, significant changes have rejuvenated the team. This transformation led to a top-four finish and two cup finals.
Comparing the squad that faced Atletico Madrid in their last Champions League match in 2022 to the current lineup, only four players from that time would expect to contend for a starting XI spot this time around. Here are four key reasons why Manchester United is better prepared for Champions League football:
1. Enhanced Squad Depth:
Despite early-season struggles, it’s undeniable that Ten Hag has quality options at his disposal. Players like Casemiro and Sofyan Amrabat can compete for the holding role, while Bruno Fernandes continues to shine further forward. Additionally, Christian Eriksen, a fit-again Mason Mount, and Scott McTominay are likely to compete for the number eight position.
2. Improved Midfield Options:
In their round of 16 exit against Atletico, Rangnick relied on a double pivot of Fred and McTominay, with Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, and Juan Mata as substitutes. Fans grew frustrated with the Fred-McTominay partnership, and Ten Hag has addressed this issue across three transfer windows as United’s manager.
3. Managerial Change:
Ten Hag’s arrival injected new life into a stagnating United side. Rangnick, while implementing a no-nonsense approach and giving opportunities to young players, couldn’t achieve the necessary results with a squad in need of an overhaul. Ten Hag offers a clearer direction and greater authority, aiming to build a team capable of competing at the highest level once again.
4. Harmonious Squad:
Ten Hag’s decision to part ways with Cristiano Ronaldo showcased his emphasis on squad harmony. In Ronaldo’s absence, United transitioned into a more cohesive unit and secured a Champions League spot. The departure of players like Pogba, whose performances drew attention but fell short of expectations, contributed to a more harmonious environment.
5. Changing of the Guard:
The current United team differs significantly from the one that faced Atletico Madrid. Notable changes include the midfield composition, the goalkeeper position (now with De Gea), a new captain in Maguire, and a reshaped front three. Ronaldo, Sancho, and Elanga were the previous trio, while players like Mata, Pogba, and Cavani were part of the squad. Jones and Lingard were unused substitutes.
While United may face initial challenges this season, they are better equipped to compete with elite European sides when operating at their full potential.