David Moyes will finally get his first taste of the Champions League proper on Tuesday, but has stated his determination not to merely take in the experience but to lead Manchester United to the trophy for a fourth time. Moyes’s only previous encounter with Europe’s flagship competition came when Everton were defeated in the qualifiers by Villarreal in 2005, and described the challenge of managing in the Champions League as one that he has been eagerly awaiting since replacing Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I've been excited about it ever since I've joined Manchester United," he said in his press conference ahead of his club’s meeting with Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford. "Every game has offered a new challenge and a tough one as well. I've been there before with Everton -- we didn't quite make the group stages but this is different. This is a club that's used to getting to the latter stages."
While United have often being handed a group that appeared kind on paper, Moyes has been afforded no such favors for his debut. As well as German outfit Leverkusen, United will also face a Real Sociedad side that were mighty impressive in cruising past Lyon in the qualifiers as well as Ukrainian’s Shakhtar Donetsk, which showed their quality by eliminating then-holders Chelsea last season. Moyes believes the difficulty of United’s group is part of a general trend.
“I think all groups are tough,” he said. “You used to be able to always pick out the group winners but in the last few years that has become more difficult. It is more unpredictable than it was. We've got a leading team from Germany, one from Spain and we go to Donetsk to play Shakhtar. It's a tough group.”
Also set for his first bow in the group stage of the Champions League is Moyes’ only major summer signing, Marouane Fellaini. It was in qualifying for the competition that the Belgian convinced Moyes to take him to Everton with a standout showing against their Merseyside rivals Liverpool for Standard Liege. After five years together at Goodison Park, both player and manager have now arrived at the big time together.
Fellaini made his United debut on Saturday following his £27.5 million deadline-day switch and was impressive after coming on as a second-half substitute. He could well now start alongside Michael Carrick.
Also angling for a starting role will be Shinji Kagawa. There was further speculation about the attacking midfielder’s role since Moyes took over when he was left out of the squad for the second-successive game at the weekend. But the Scot revealed that Kagawa was suffering from flu after traveling away with Japan, but is now recovering.
"Shinji's better, although he's still feeling symptoms in his throat,” Moyes explained. “He's had a bit of flu as we said on Saturday. But he came in and did a bit of training yesterday and he's done a little bit today. So he's feeling a bit better."
After the youngster’s eye-catching cameo against Crystal Palace, Moyes also explained the decision to leave Adnan Januzaj out of the Champions League squad. The Belgian, he explained, will be eligible to go onto the B list for youth players by the time of the third group game when he will have trained with United for the required amount of time.
Having finished third in the Bundesliga last season, Leverkusen come into Tuesday’s match in the same position after four wins and a defeat from their opening five matches. There will be a familiar face in the visitor’s dugout for United fans, with Leverkusen managed by former Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia.