The Champions League was a disaster for Manchester United last year. They were upended on the final matchday of the group stage by Basel and failed to advance to the knockout stages as a result, an embarrassment for the club and the Premier League, which had a tough time calling itself the best league in the world after United and Manchester City exited in the group stage. Luckily for them, they got a cake draw this year that should see them through to the knockout stages no matter how poorly they play.
It doesn't matter what happened last year and it doesn't matter what the fixture list looks like -- United are going through. So their central midfield isn't what you would expect of one of the best teams in the world. Big deal. They don't have to be one of the best teams in the world in this group. With the way that Shinji Kagawa is playing, Wayne Rooney's injury isn't too big of a blow to the Red Devils and Robin van Persie will get settled in before long to make that attacking group of him, Kagawa and any two of United's 4,000 wingers unbelievably dangerous.
There was no doubt who the best team in the Turkish Super Lig was last year. Galatasaray finished the season nine points clear of second place and 21 points ahead of third place. They were the undoubted top team in the league and have added Nordin Amrabat, Burak Yilmaz, Felipe Melo and Hamit Altintop this summer. You can bet that Turk Telekom Arena will be buzzing for all three of their European matches too.
Braga were always going to need a weaker group to advance to the knockout stages and while that is exactly what they got, they are still going to need some help. They were probably they weakest team in Pot Two, but they have a 20-goal scorer from a year ago in Lima and a quality midfielder to lean upon in Ruben Micael. Braga are an older team and while that experience will serve them well in a tournament like this, it's probably not enough to best a good Galatasaray squad.
We've gotten used to seeing Cluj in the Champions League as investment in the club has made it one of Romania's best in recent years. Unfortunately for them, good in Romania does not mean good in Europe. They have finished dead last in both of their two Champions League group stage appearances.
Robin van Persie is actually the best player in this group, or maybe even Nemanja Vidic when he is healthy, but Kagawa is the best player right now. He's off to a flying start at Old Trafford since making the move from Borussia Dortmund and has made it so Wayne Rooney's absence won't even be too much of a setback. That one of the best players from the two-time defending Bundesliga champions is thriving for United isn't a surprise, but it has been mighty impressive how quickly he has settled in with his new club.
At 27 years old, Yilmaz isn't your traditional breakout player. He isn't some teenager who lit it up for some small club in a small league and is finally going to get his chance in the spotlight, but he is a guy that most people don't know about because most people don't watch the Turkish Super Lig. They will know him after the Champions League, though. Yilmaz scored 20 goals for Trabzonspor two years ago and then 34 more last year. Now with Galatasaray, people will finally get a look at him.
It's tough to imagine Cluj doing much to challenge for a spot in the knockout stages and United should run away with the group, meaning that the battles between Galatasaray and Braga should be the matches that determine second place. Moreover, the matches will be in front of a crazy Turkish crowd and at one of the most breathtaking stadiums in Europe, built into a Portuguese rock quarry.