The 2015-16 UEFA Champions League has reached the third qualifying round stage – and by August 7, Manchester United will know who they need to beat if they are to contest the group stage.
After two rounds in which the champions of the countries ranked No 16-54 by UEFA (Romania down to Gibraltar) have been jousting to take on the cream of the continent, 13 more teams now enter the fray including 10 who failed to win their domestic title.
Basel, Red Bull Salzburg and Viktoria Plzen all come in now via the Champions Route to the group stage, while the League Route has those 10 runners-up and third-placed clubs who are bidding for a play-off round tie.
It’s highly likely that one of those 10 will play Manchester United towards the end of August.
It’s possible the Red Devils could also face either Lazio or Sporting Lisbon who, like them, go straight into the play-off round due to their countries being among the top five in the UEFA rankings.
Wayne Rooney (left) in Champions League action for Manchester United (Getty Images)
It will all depend on the co-efficient of the winners of the five League Route ties in the third qualifying round as to who will be the five seeded clubs and while United know they will be in the top bracket along with Valencia and Bayer Leverkusen, it means Sporting Lisbon and Lazio having to wait.
The tougher possibilities for Louis van Gaal’s side look to be Monaco, Ajax, CSKA Moscow, Shakhtar Donetsk and Fenerbahce, to whom they sold Robin van Persie and Nani this summer – and how ironic it would be if there was a swift reunion with that duo.
Rapid Vienna, Young Boys, Panathinaikos, Bruges and Sparta Prague would be more preferable depending on how many of them were to get through, although as the Greeks and Belgians play each other then the winner of that tie may be the opponent of choice.
Scottish champions Celtic came through the second qualifying round 6-1 on aggregate against Icelandic side Stjarnan and now have to play Qarabag in Glasgow before making the trip to Azerbaijan.
2015-16 UEFA Champions League schedule (all kick-off times BST)
Third qualifying round first leg
Tuesday July 28
17:15 CSKA Moscow (Russia) v Sparta Prague (Czech Republic)
18:00 Midtjylland (Denmark) v APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)
18:00 Milsami Orhei (Moldova) v Skenderbeu (Albania)
18:30 Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) v Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)
19:00 Fenerbahce (Turkey) v Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
19:00 Panathinaikos (Greece) v Bruges (Belgium)
19:15 Young Boys (Switzerland) v Monaco (France)
19:30 Videoton (Hungary) v BATE Borisov (Belarus)
20:00 Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) v Molde (Norway)
Wednesday July 29
17:00 HJK Helsinki (Finland) v Astana (Kazakhstan)
18:00 Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) v Malmo (Sweden)
19:30 Steaua Bucharest (Romania) v Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)
19:45 Celtic (Scotland) v Qarabag (Azerbaijan)
19:45 Lech Poznan (Poland) v Basel (Switzerland)
20:05 Rapid Vienna (Austria) v Ajax (Netherlands)
August 4-5 – Third qualifying round second leg
August 7 – Draw for play-off round
August 18-19 – Play-off round first leg
August 25-26 – Play-off round second leg
August 27 – Draw for group stage
September 15-16 – Group stage match day 1
September 29-30 – Group stage match day 2
October 20-21 – Group stage match day 3
November 3-4 – Group stage match day 4
November 24-25 – Group stage match day 5
December 8-9 – Group stage match day 6
December 14 – Draw for round of 16
February 16-17 – Round of 16 first leg
February 23-24 – Round of 16 first leg
March 8-9 – Round of 16 second leg
March 15-16 – Round of 16 second leg
March 18 – Draw for quarter-finals
April 5-6 – Quarter-final first leg
April 12-13 – Quarter-final second leg
April 15 – Draw for semi-finals
April 26-27 – Semi-final first leg
May 3-4 – Semi-final second leg
May 28 – Champions League Final in Milan