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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Ronaldo adds a huge boost to Juventus firepower

Man United unlikely to have enough quality to challenge

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates a goal for Juventus
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Juventus Max Allegri
The Champions League has become an obsession for Juventus as they bid to end their long wait for European glory - their last success in this competition came against Ajax in 1996.

Juve have been to the final five times since and on every occasion they were beaten, while the pain continued in last season's Champions League with a last-minute quarter-final defeat at Real Madrid after they produced a superb comeback having lost the first leg 3-0.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the man to break Old Lady hearts at the Bernabeu, just like he did in the 2017 Cardiff final, and Juventus decided the best chance of bringing the trophy back to Turin was to buy Mr Champions League himself.

Ronaldo is 33, but he takes immense pride in his fitness and should still have a couple of campaigns left at the highest level, while Juve also addressed their right-back issues with the signing of Joao Cancelo and classy centre-back Leonardo Bonucci returning from Milan.

In poker terms Juventus have gone all-in.

Manchester United Jose Mourinho
For a team of Manchester United's stature it has been a difficult period in the Champions League for the Red Devils.

Last season's last-16 exit to Sevilla continued their recent disappointments which include a group-stage elimination in 2015-16. Their last trip beyond the quarter-finals was under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011.

Manager Jose Mourinho has also been under fire for a slow Premier League start and miserable pre-season as he complained of missing out on desperately needed central-defensive reinforcements.

United finished second in the Premier League last season, 19 points behind neighbours Manchester City, but on expected goal ratings the gulf was nearer 30 with Mourinho's men ranked sixth-best in the Premier League.

They are, however, capable of winning elite matches after posting victories over the rest of the Premier League's big six last season. In Paul Pogba and David de Gea United possess two of the world's top talents in their respective positions, but it's unlikely to be enough. 

Valencia Marcelino
Gary Neville was Valencia's manager the last time they were involved in Champions League action and Los Che have come a long way since that 2-0 defeat to Lyon in December 2015.

Whether they have come far enough to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2012-13 is a difficult question following this draw, but coach Marcelino was in bullish mood and said: "I'm certain Juventus and Manchester United will consider Valencia a minefield."

Valencia have got their mojo back under the canny Marcelino following a shambolic spell of five managers in their two-year Champions League absence which brought a couple of bottom-half La Liga finishes.

A new president with a new direction and the appointment of Marcelino brought Valencia back up to fourth last season and they have signed influential loanees Goncalo Guedes and Geoffrey Kondogbia on permanent deals, along with Kevin Gameiro.

Russia's World Cup hero Denis Cheryshev and Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi are the latest loan signings and Valencia could be awkward opponents.

Young Boys Gerardo Seoane
Football's a funny old game.

In May 2017 Swiss Super League CEO Claudius Schaef admitted he was contemplating a change in format to make the championship more competitive after Basel bagged their eighth straight title, but less than 12 months later new champions were crowned.

Young Boys, a team labelled as chokers, proved themselves to be nothing of the sort as they secured their first title in 32 years, battering Basel out of sight without the need for a contrived playoff system to overcome the perennial champions.

It was widely expected that Young Boys would see their squad broken up, particularly as highly-rated coach Adi Hutter departed for Eintracht Frankfurt to be replaced by 39-year-old Gerardo Seoane, but centre-back Kasim Adams (to Hoffenheim) was the only significant departure.

Young Boys beat Dinamo Zagreb in their Champions League playoff, helped with a 2-1 home win at the Wankdorf which has an advantageous artificial surface, although the Swiss side are unlikely to go far in this group.

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Valencia have got their mojo back under the canny Marcelino
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