Manchester United: How Many of Europe's Top Clubs Could Man Utd Beat?

Max TowleAnalyst IOctober 8, 2012

Manchester United: How Many of Europe's Top Clubs Could Man Utd Beat?

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    I remember vividly, I think it must have been in mid-May 2009, the build up to that year's Champions League final with Barcelona.

    Though the pundits were torn in their pregame predictions, I, like many Manchester United fans, was legitimately optimistic that a win was on the cards.

    I had Ronaldo over Messi, Vidic dominating Eto'o and strongly believed that Park Ji-Sung could play the role of spoiler in the midfield.

    How wrong I was.

    Having held the position for the previous 12 or so months, it was the 2-0 defeat in Rome that saw Sir Alex Ferguson's side relinquish the "best in the world" tag.

    More than three years later, the Scotsman is still fighting to get it back.

    It is a struggle that often feels like running into the wind—a constant grind that saw him persuade the club "suits" to part with £24 million for a 29-year-old.

    If Sir Alex retires in a year or two's time having won the Champions League only twice, his relative lack of success on the European stage compared to the domestic will surely prove the biggest regret of his time at Old Trafford.

    The Red Devils have been the bridesmaids far more often than the bride.

    They were only one step behind Dortmund in '97, Leverkusen in '02, Real Madrid in '03, Milan in '07 and Bayern in 2010.

    So in whose shadow do they walk this season? Which of the top clubs can Sir Alex Ferguson's "Manchester United, Version 26" realistically hope to beat should they meet in the Champions League?

    Read on to find out.

PSG

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    Could United beat them?: Yes

    Sometimes, as a fan, you get a sense of inevitability during the season—that a particular reunion or matchup will occur to send the tabloids into a verified frenzy.

    Since PSG trumped United at the very last moment to the signature of Lucas Moura in the summer, I can't shake the feeling that the Red Devils are destined to draw the French club and their Brazilian prodigy at some point in the Champions League knockout rounds.

    Could United beat them? Yes, I think so.

    Sir Alex's sides of the past have kept a handle on Zlatan Ibrahimovic well, and even though Carlo Ancelotti teams have often had the edge over United, I believe PSG are still a few years off being genuine contenders for the big one.

Juventus

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    Could United beat them?: No

    If United were to draw Juventus in the knockout stages of the Champions League, you can be sure fans of the Red Devils would be having nightmares about Andrea Pirlo running the side ragged, in the weeks beforehand.

    Chelsea may have come mighty close to getting a big win against Antonio Conte's side a few weeks ago, but I believe that Juve are exactly the kind of well disciplined, well organised team that could get a result against United.

    Hopes will be pinned on Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea to eliminate the Bianconeri in the group stage, to rid the competition of a legitimate threat further down the line.

AC Milan

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    Could United beat them?: Yes

    United easily got the better of AC Milan in 2010, and since then the Red Devils have arguably improved, whilst the Rossoneri have regressed.

    Though still stuffed full of talent, Milan are a fallen side this season, perhaps regretting the sales of some of their big guns in the summer.

    Of course, young phenom Stephan El Shaarawy has the sort of X-factor that could scare the wits out of Sir Alex's team, similar to how Kaka did in 2007.

    But this Milanese side have far too many weaknesses, and are too inexperienced to cause United many problems should they meet in the new year.

Real Madrid

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    Could United beat them?: No

    For my money, despite their poor domestic start to the season, Real Madrid are the team to beat in the Champions League.

    Jose Mourinho will devote his entire being to winning the competition, and you can make sure his players will buy into his passion too.

    Though it would be a dream to see Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford, I would fear that such an event would only signal doom for United.

    Mourinho would quickly root out United's weaknesses (most notably in central midfield and down the flanks), and exploit them for all they're worth.

Porto

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    Could United beat them?: Yes

    Porto may have just given PSG a real shock in the Champions League but should still not have the type of quality to frighten United were they to meet in the competition.

    Joao Moutinho and Steven Defour may have the edge in central midfield, but the Red Devils are far stronger in attack and defence, despite their recent struggles.

    Sir Alex will not allow his side to crash out of the tournament due to poor results against Portuguese opposition like they did last season.

Borussia Dortmund

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    Could United beat them?: Yes

    An emerging power in European football, Borussia Dortmund gave Manchester City a scare at the Etihad a few weeks ago, unlucky not to trump the Citizens were it not for a somewhat harsh penalty call.

    Despite Shinji Kagawa having swapped yellow for red in the summer, Dortmund remain a young, creative side with a manager tipped for even greater things in his burgeoning career.

    Although I struggle to see it happening, if Robert Lewandowski, Neven Subotic and co. do cause a Champions League upset against United this season, expect Sir Alex to take a keen interest in the young guns in the following transfer window.

Bayern Munich

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    Could United beat them?: No

    It would take a fool to bet against the cool efficiency of Bayern Munich leading them back to the Champions League final this season.

    Forget their recent upset at the hands of upstarts BATE Borisov, Bayern have blown away all in their path domestically, and are currently playing some of the best football in Europe.

    Though it would be sickening for a United fan to see an Arjen Robben-led team beat their side yet again, they must hope that the two clubs are kept apart in the draw for as long as possible.

Barcelona

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    Could United beat them?: Yes

    Perhaps the suggestion most likely to cause controversy, it is my opinion that this season represents United's best chance since 2008, and likely for years to come, to trump Barcelona in European competition.

    If the two sides were to meet, one could reasonably expect goals galore—both have struggling defences but incredibly potent attacks.

    Though Pep Guardiola is now gone, Barcelona still remains one of, if not the most talented squad in football.

    But to paraphrase The Who, Sir Alex may have been tactically outgunned in 2009 and 2011, but I'd like to think he wont get fooled again. 

     

    What do you think? Which of Europe's finest would Manchester United reasonably hope to beat?

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