NYON, August 8- Manchester United were given a kind draw in the Champions League play-offs as they were paired with Belgians Club Brugge on Friday.
The three-time former winners, making their return to Europe’s premier club competition after a one-year hiatus, will play the first leg at their Old Trafford home.
“We’re absolutely delighted to be back in the competition. We’re back where we want to be,” said United club secretary John Alexander.
“Belgian football is right at the very top and we have two Belgian players in the squad who keep us abreast of what’s going on there.
“We go into any game with confidence. We’d like to think we can win the competition.”
In other pairings in the League Route, Spaniards Valencia, finalists in 2000 and 2001, drew 2004 finalists Monaco of France while the clash of the round sees Italians Lazio up against Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen, beaten finalists in 2002.
“Ahead of the draw we were fully aware that we were going to face a very good side in the play-offs,” said Lazio coach Stefano Poli.
“We need to prepare in the best possible way for this tie in order to be competitive.”
Leverkusen CEO Michael Schade was also glum over the draw.
“I think we got the toughest draw possible but obviously we want to be in the group stage,” he said.
“We are very confident that our coach’s pressing style will see us do well in the competition.”
United failed to qualify for European competition last season having finished seventh in the English Premier League in 2014.
But Louis Van Gaal led them to fourth in the table last season, giving them the chance to earn a place back in the group stage of the Champions League, a competition they last won in 2008 during a run of three finals in four seasons (the last being a defeat to Barcelona in 2011).
Club Brugge are the only ever Belgian side to reach the European Cup or Champions League final, losing 1-0 to United’s bitter domestic rivals Liverpool in 1978.
United forward Adnan Januzaj and midfielder Marouane Feilaini are both Belgium internationals.
In the other League Route pairings, Sporting Lisbon will have the chance to gain revenge on CSKA Moscow, who beat them in the 2005 UEFA Cup at the Portuguese outfit’s own Lisbon home ground.
The final pairing sees Austria’s Rapid Vienna — conquerors of Ajax in the third qualifying round — take on Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk while the pick of the Champions Route games saw 1967 winners Celtic drawn against 1979 finalists Malmo.
Astana (KAZ) v APOEL (CYP)
Skenderbeu (ALB) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
Celtic (SCO) v Malmo (SWE)
Basel (SUI) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)
BATE (BLR) v Partizan Belgrade (SRB)
Lazio (ITA) v Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Manchester United (ENG) v Club Brugge (BEL)
Sporting Lisbon (POR) v CSKA Moscow (RUS)
Rapid Vienna (AUT) v Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
Valencia (ESP) v Monaco (FRA)
First legs to be played August 18/19, second legs on August 25/26