This tie is nothing short of massive for a club of United’s stature. It is fundamental to retaining their standing among the world’s biggest teams. Can you imagine Real Madrid or Barcelona enduring two seasons out of the Champions League?
Louis van Gaal’s problem is that they have been poor so far this term. Memphis Depay got them a 3-1 win in the home leg, scoring two and setting up the other, but throughout the team are worrying signs.
United still don’t have a recognised centre-back pairing, the goalkeeping situation – with Real target David de Gea in limbo – remains unresolved, and they haven’t signed the striker they sorely need.
Wayne Rooney has been asked to lead the line when he can’t do it any more; he’s not quick enough and his performances have been alarming. He has to go back to being a No10; there isn’t even an argument.
They have a lead but it feels fragile. They are not solid, lack fluency and have no cutting edge, so anything could happen. I honestly can’t rate their chances of reaching the lucrative group stage at more than 50-50.
Across town, neighbours Manchester City have emerged as the team to beat in the Premier League this term with three impressive wins from three.
That formidable spine of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero looks to be back, hungry and strong again. David Silva has made an excellent start to the campaign, while Raheem Sterling will be happy to have contributed a couple of good assists. With Tottenham away looking the only test among their looming fixtures, the worry for their title rivals will be that City could quickly be out of sight.
Liverpool earned plaudits – and a point – at Arsenal on Monday and will be happy with their start but look a team that can be outmuscled and, come May, I can’t see them challenging for anything higher than fourth place.
As for Arsenal, it’s hard to ignore Thierry Henry’s argument that his old team need a striker who not only finishes lovely moves, like Olivier Giroud, but can also sniff something out of nothing.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who has played at two World Cups and two European Championships.