Champions League draw: Manchester United faces Club Brugge


Missing out on the Champions League last season, Manchester United appears set to return to the group stage in European football’s top club competition after being handed a favorable playoff draw Friday.

The Red Devils could have faced Lazio, Monaco or CSKA Moscow in the two-leg affair but instead were drawn against Club Brugge.

Belgium’s top division can’t match the quality of Italy, France or Russia and in a further boost to United, the trip to Bruges will be a short one. Club Brugge, the 1978 finalist, finished second last term.

The three-time champion United is seeking to build on a season where manager Louis van Gaal — who guided Ajax to Champions League glory in 1995 — steadied the ship following a turbulent campaign under David Moyes. United secured fourth in the Premier League last season.

Dutch winger Memphis Depay, World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger and French holding midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin have all arrived in the off-season, although standout goalkeeper David de Gea continues to be linked with Real Madrid and Van Gaal confirmed Friday that the Spanish international wouldn’t play in Saturday’s Premier League opener against Tottenham.

“It is not easy for De Gea to manage his situation now,” Van Gaal told reporters Friday before the draw.

The pick of the 10 ties may be two-time finalist Valencia playing Monaco, which upset Arsenal in last season’s knockout phase.

If Valencia progresses, Spain would become the first nation to have five teams in the group stage — by winning last season’s Europa League, Sevilla gained an automatic Champions League berth.

Spanish clubs are firmly embedded in Champions League or European Cup history: No one has claimed more than Real Madrid’s 10 titles, while Barcelona is the defending champion and owns four titles in the last decade.

The only other Champions League winner in Friday’s draw, Celtic, meets Malmo through the “champions route.”

FC Astana and KS Skenderbeu challenge Apoel FC and GNK Dinamo, respectively. Kazakhstan’s Astana and Albania’s Skenderbeu would become the first outfits from their countries to make the group stage.

Astana — founded less than 10 years ago — this week rallied from 2-0 down at home against HJK Helsinki, then scored in injury time to progress 4-3 in the game and on aggregate.

The ties are to be played on August 18/19 and 25/26.

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