The Champions League resumes Tuesday at Manchester United where one of the competition’s most storied clubs is mourning its all-time great Bobby Charlton.
Charlton, who died Saturday aged 86, survived the fatal air crash at Munich in February 1958 that devastated the then-champion of England on its journey home from a European Cup game.
He lifted the trophy 10 years later as captain of a team rebuilt by manager Matt Busby who had been seriously injured at Munich, where eight players died.
Charlton was a beloved director on the Man United board when it was European champion again in 1999 and 2008 under another Scottish manager, Alex Ferguson, who he had helped bring to the club.
The main stand is named for Charlton at Old Trafford where Man United will host Copenhagen on Tuesday and pay tribute to a man who helped define its illustrious history.
Charlton “was a hero to millions,” the club said in a statement. “Not just in Manchester, or the United Kingdom, but wherever football is played around the world.”
Manchester United was the first English team to play in the European Cup, and Charlton first played in the competition in that 1956-57 season. He scored against Real Madrid though a 2-2 draw in the semifinals, second leg in Manchester meant the defending champions advanced.
The “Busby Babes” had just qualified for another semifinal the next season, eliminating Red Star Belgrade, when the team airplane stopped at Munich to refuel. The plane overshot the runway and caught fire on its third attempt to take off in heavy snow.
Charlton was thrown clear of the wreckage and suffered only minor injuries in an accident that eventually took the lives of 23 of the 44 people on board.
Restoring Manchester United to greatness was a quest for Busby and Charlton, who scored twice in the 4-1 extra-time win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final at Wembley Stadium. England’s national stadium in London stages the next Champions League final on June 1.
Manchester United started this Champions League campaign in Munich and it has not been a happy return after playing last season in the second-tier Europa League.
Back-to-back defeats – 4-3 at Bayern Munich and twice wasting leads in a 3-2 loss at home to Galatasaray – have left United last in Group A and added pressure on manager Erik ten Hag.
Home and away games against Copenhagen in a 16-day spell ahead of the next break for national-team games are likely to be key to United’s chances of advancing.
One bright spot for Ten Hag is three goals in the group by 20-year-old forward Rasmus Højlund, who Copenhagen sold 21 months ago for a little over $2 million to Sturm Graz. His value had increased 40-fold when Manchester United agreed an $80 million transfer fee with Atalanta in August.
Arsenal also lost three weeks ago, 2-1 at Lens and now has back-to-back games against Sevilla, starting Tuesday in Spain. The Europa League title holder fired its coach José Luis Mendilibar after a slow start to the season including draws in its first two Group B games.
Newcastle also had a slow start to the season but has surged to an eight-game unbeaten run — including a 4-1 beating of Paris Saint-Germain — ahead of hosting Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
In its first Champions League campaign for 20 years, Newcastle is top of the blockbuster group that also includes seven-time champion AC Milan, which plays at PSG on Wednesday.
Defending champion Manchester City is cruising to the knockout rounds with two wins before going to Swiss champion Young Boys on Wednesday.
BAYERN ROLLS ON
If the Champions League group phase often seems predictable, Bayern Munich is one reason.
The German champion hasn’t lost a group game since 2017 and hasn’t dropped a point since 2020, though needed an 83rd-minute winning goal at Copenhagen three weeks ago. Next up Tuesday in Istanbul is Galatasaray.
In Germany this week, Leipzig hosts Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday after losing 3-1 to Man City.
Union Berlin’s debut Champions League campaign has been a story of heartbreak, losing to both Real Madrid and Braga on goals scored deep into added time. Union next hosts Napoli on Tuesday, when Madrid is at Braga.
POINTLESS SO FAR
Benfica is along with Manchester United perhaps the biggest surprise among teams with no points after two games.
A quarterfinalist last season, and top-seeded in the group-stage draw, Benfica lost at home to Salzburg before a 1-0 defeat at Inter Milan. The Portuguese champion now hosts Real Sociedad.
Celtic aims to get off the mark at home to Group E leader Atletico Madrid. Royal Antwerp hosts Porto at its 100-year-old Bosuil Stadium where a two-goal lead was given up in a 3-2 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Barcelona hosts Shakhtar on Wednesday seeking a third straight win.
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