SIR ALEX FERGUSON always made a point of just how much a Champions League away game can take out of a team.
Particularly when they then have to face a fierce rival in the Premier League that following weekend.
He felt the tribal nature of the domestic league demanded that he played a full-strength team no matter what had gone on midweek in Madrid or Milan.
So to win the league in 2008, 2009 and 2011 whilst getting to the Champions League final in each of those years was something special.
But he had a special squad of players to do that and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thinks he has the same.
Enough to fight it out on two fronts in the Premier League and in Europe. Not the Europa League which they have dipped into too often over the last ten years.
Two quarter-finals in a decade is just not good enough for a club of Manchester United’s side and Solskjaer knows it.
Now as United open up their campaign with a Group F game away to Young Boys in Bern, Solskjaer believes he has what he needs to put things right.
Players of real quality in this competition like Cristiano Ronaldo who won it once with United in 2008 and four times with Real Madrid.
If he plays, Ronaldo will equal Iker Casillas’ all-time record of 177 Champions League appearances.
Raphael Varane, who won the same four finals as a team-mate of Ronaldo in Madrid as well as the World Cup with Paul Pogba.
And Pogba himself has been a runner-up in the Champions League in his time at Juventus where he won four Scudettos.
Then there is Jadon Sancho, one of the most sought-after young wingers in Europe.
It really is looking and sounding like a big team again.
So Solskjaer is looking to start creating history as a manager in this competition just as he did as a player when he plundered an injury- time winner in that memorable 1999 final against Bayern Munich.
Solskjaer said: “We’ve had enough disappointments, that’s for sure.
“But this team has grown and matured over the last few seasons, that was always the plan, back in the day when I came in, to have a squad with experience and quality to challenge.
“We’re getting the spine of the team, you can see experience and quality, Raphael and Cristiano add that something extra we have to buy unless you win it four times yourself.
“We’ve definitely learnt, the group is special, as a unit. They look after each other.
“The atmosphere is really good and that’s going to stand us in good stead, definitely.”
There are plenty of leaders where there used to be none with Pogba emerging from the pack once again.
He provided his seventh assist of the season in the Premier League in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Newcastle.
The Frenchman provided only three in each of the previous two seasons. He looks like he has the bit between his teeth.
Solskjaer said: “Paul’s come back in good shape and he’s worked really hard over the summer, he came back lean and fit.”
It was here three years ago that Pogba scored twice in a 3-0 opening Group game, just before his relationship went into meltdown with Jose Mourinho.
Now he is feeling so good at Old Trafford that he is considering signing a new deal to extend his stay at the club beyond next summer.
Ronaldo’s return has certainly helped in that thinking, with his impact both on and off the pitch, after scoring twice on his second debut in the 4-1 win over Newcastle.
Fourth choice goalkeeper Lee Grant said on talkSPORT yesterday that the whole squad were watching what the super-fit 36-year-old was eating at the team hotel last Friday — to the point where nobody ordered dessert.
Solskjaer did not seem too happy about all that when it was put to him in a press conference in Bern ahead of the game.
He said: “That’s obviously a joke by Granty in a setting with some mates and ex-players. It’s not like we’re linked with junk food and Cristiano changed it.
“He’s proven over the years how to look after yourself. how to prolong your career.”
The return of Ronaldo has definitely given the whole club a lift, fans and players alike.
Goalkeeper David De Gea reflected that with a smile as he looked back on the last week since he rejoined the club and on an amazing afternoon on Saturday.
De Gea said: “It’s great to have Cristiano back at home.
“It shows on the first day he played the impact already, two very important goals for us. You know the qualities, the experience of Cristiano is amazing.
“It’s great for us, he’s a legend here at the club, it’s great to have him back, it’s massive for us.”
So is the Champions League. They start their campaign tonight with Solskjaer truly believing they now have a team to win it and bring the European glory back
He said: “We have had some memorable historic nights at the club in this competition, they’re the biggest nights for the club.”
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