Indeed, all four teams in the section are on the same points tally after two games, with United having recovered from their opening loss to PSV Eindhoven by coming from behind to win at home to Wolfsburg in a hard-fought game which required them to cling on to their lead in the closing stages. Meanwhile, after losing in Germany on match day one, CSKA Moscow held off a PSV fightback to register an all-important victory of their own.
It was the worst possible start for Louis van Gaal’s men against Wolfsburg as they fell behind early on and looked nervy in the minutes that followed. However, they found their composure and won a penalty from which Juan Mata made no mistake, before Chris Smalling was on hand to net the second half winner, emphasising his considerable presence from set-pieces and preventing his side from slipping to the bottom of the group, a fate which would have raised the stakes for this match.
Any confidence they might have gained from that result was soon extinguished the following Sunday as their sluggish start at Arsenal was ruthlessly punished. Out of the game after just 20 minutes, they were knocked off the top of the Premier League, but upon the resumption of club football after the international break they came up with the perfect response, easily seeing off the challenge of Everton at a venue where they have struggled in recent seasons.
The manager deserves credit for the manner in which he turned things around from the Arsenal debacle, as his team produced one of their best performances of his reign at Goodison Park, playing some of their most penetrative football for a long time. Captain Wayne Rooney was on the scoresheet away from home, but it was the midfield trio that made all the difference. Two of them – Morgan Schneiderlin and the outstanding Ander Herrera – found the net themselves.
It represents the ideal preparation for this potentially tricky clash against a side which have caused problems for English clubs in the Champions League on occasion. They are not as strong as they have been in years gone by, but they did take four points of Manchester City in last season’s group stage and have a couple of standout players in the shape of Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa and Ivorian Seydou Doumbia.
CSKA are also faring well domestically, with 10 wins and two draws from their opening 12 matches resulting in them opening up a commanding eight point lead at the top of the Russian Premier League. Meanwhile, manager Leonid Slutsky has been a busy man of late, guiding his country to Euro 2016 in addition to his club duties.
The visitors could go unchanged for this clash, but van Gaal may decide to hand a recall to Memphis Depay and Michael Carrick, the latter having returned from injury as a substitute on Saturday.