The Star Man - Ruud Van Nistelrooy
The most prolific marksman in the Champions League over the last three seasons, Van Nistelrooy has a stunning record against Europe's best defences.
Signed from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2001, he has also been prolific in the Premiership, firing 68 goals in just 98 appearances. It's no wonder United stumbled without him as he recovered from injury at the start of this season.
A star turn for Holland at Euro 2004, Van Nistelrooy is a striker who links the play as well as anyone in the game and he should form a formidable partnership with either Alan Smith or Wayne Rooney.
The Weak Link - Defence
The lengthy suspension of Rio Ferdinand left United badly exposed at the back as the likes of Mikael Silvestre, John O'Shea and Gary Neville struggle to fill the gap at the heart of the defence.
Roy Keane has moved back from his familiar midfield role to fill in at the heart of the defence at the start of this season, so Alex Ferguson will be keen to get Ferdinand back up to speed as quickly as possible. His dilemma may well be finding a suitable partner for his £29.1m centre-back.
Whether Silvestre is that man remains to be seen after his shaky Euro 2004 with France and Keane has stated he has no intentions of moving back permanently. Maybe previously errant Argentine Gabriel Heinze will fill the role, though he seems likely to be deployed at left full-back.
The New Face - Wayne Rooney
After a summer of speculation, Alex Ferguson finally secured the services of England's golden boy on transfer deadline day. If he continues his Euro 2004 form in the red of United, he could be the missing piece in their jigsaw.
The challenge of Champions League football played a factor in Rooney opting to seal his switch from Everton to Old Trafford and the 18-year-old now has to force his way into the team on a consistent basis.
It may be that Ferguson looks to incorporate him into the in his starting line-up alongside Van Nistelrooy and Smith, with Rooney playing a deeper role.
The Coach - Sir Alex Ferguson
A living legend in British football after a thirty year career as a manager that has seen him claim every major honour available, Ferguson still has the passion to add to his trophy haul.
The highlight of his career came in 1999 as he led United to a unique Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League Treble, but he has struggled to recapture such glory in Europe since that famous night at the Nou Camp when two late goals saw off Bayern Munich.
United always reach the latter stages of the Champions League, but can a developing side prove their doubters wrong by capturing the ultimate prize this season? Time will tell, but you write off this manager at your peril.
Verdict: The quarter-finals at best.
The Star Man - Sidney Govou
Brilliant little French international who can line up as an out-and-out striker or as a right-sided attacking midfielder. Noted for sprinter-like speed, dribbling prowess, and packs a powerful shot, though he does not try his luck from distance as often as he should.
His one weak points is his frail physique. When the muck and bullets start to fly, he can be a little lightweight at times and in the past couple of years he has been a regular in the treatment room with various injuries.
Joined Lyon as a 17-year-old in 1997, making his first team debut two years later. Burst onto the European scene in the 2001-02 season, scoring two wonderful goals in Lyon's 3-0 thumping of Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
The Weak Link - Defence
Lyon sold their first-choice central defenders, the Brazilian Edmilson (to Barcelona) and the Swiss Patrick Muller (to Mallorca), in the close season and the jury must be out whether the new pairing of the Brazilian Claudio Cacapa and recently-signed ex-Lille man Eric Abidal will fill the void adequately.
Bought from Atletico Mineiro in 2001, Cacapa loves one-on-one battles with opposing strikers but his concentration tends to lapse at times, with ball-watching a particular problem. While Abidal has lots of promise, he is relatively untested at the top level and his distribution is not the best.
Lyon's full-backs, the right-sided Antony Reveillere and left-back Jeremie Berthod have their weaknesses, especially their below-average positional play.
The New Face - Sylvain Wiltord
On hearing that Brazilian marksman Giovane Elber would be sidelined until the New Year with ankle ligament damage, the Lyon management swooped to sign the French international front-runner or attacking midfielder, who had come to the end of his contract with Arsenal.
Now fully recovered from the ankle injury which kept him out for three months last season, he started his pro career in the early 1990s with French side Rennes, then starred for Bordeaux before joining Arsenal in the summer 2000 in a £14 million deal via Deportivo La Coruna, for whom he never played.
Quick, incisive and a proven goalscorer, he has won 61 caps for France - he made his debut for Les Bleus back in February 1999 in a 2-0 victory over England at Wembley - and has managed 20 goals for his country, a good strike-rate by anyone's standards.
The Coach - Paul Le Guen
Former French national team skipper who on ending an outstanding playing career as a defensive midfielder with Brest, Nantes and Paris Saint-Germain, successfully turned to coaching, first taking charge of Rennes and then headhunted in 2002 by Lyon, whom he has led to the last two French League titles.
Softly-spoken and not one to show his emotions, he is not the most colourful of characters. But he is an excellent organiser, has a sharp eye for tactical detail and is a good man-manager, able to keep al the stars in his squad relatively happy.
Enjoyed much success in Europe as a player, a member of the PSG team which reached the Champions League semis in 1995 and won the Cup-winners' Cup the following year.
Verdict: Could well repeat last season's quarter-final spot.
The Star Man - Pierre Van Hooijdonk
Dutch international striker who moved from Feyenoord of Rotterdam to Fenerbahce a year ago and quickly became a cult hero with the yellow canaries, amassing 23 goals to help Fener claim the 2003-04 league title.
Physically imposing, with a deft touch on the ball and a free-kick specialist, he enjoyed his finest moment in Europe when playing an instrumental role in Feyenoord's UEFA Cup triumph in 2002. He won his first cap for Holland back in 1994 but has never truly been able to establish himself as a regular for the 'Oranje'.
Can be a difficult customer to handle. Went on strike in 1998 in an attempt to earn himself a transfer from Nottingham Forest and also had bust-ups with management while at Benfica and Feyenoord. Has also played for Rosendaal, NAC Breda, Celtic and Vitesse Arnhem.
The Weak Link - The backline
Promising young centre-back Servet Cetin is likely to be out until the New Year with a knee ligament injury and he will be badly missed. All their other centre-backs, the Brazilian Luciano, Deniz Baris and Umit Ozat are robust, determined and strong in the air but are not the quickest over the ground.
Fener can be exposed at full-back too. Recently bought from Standard Liege, young right-back Onder Turaci lacks experience, while at left-back, another Brazilian Fabiano is far better going forward than marking and covering.
Highly experienced Turkish national team keeper Rustu Recber has returned to Fener after an unhappy time at Barcelona. But how has his confidence been affected by being tagged a Nou Camp reject?
The New Face - Alex
Fenerbahce certainly pulled off a transfer market coup this summer when they won the race to sign the extravangantly-gifted Brazilian playmaker from Cruzeiro for just £3 million.
Critics say the 27-year-old is not particularly quick and can be muscled out of a game but his glorious left-foot, vision and flair more than make up for those supposed faults. Sets the tempo of his team's play and picks out passes which others simply do not see.
First played for Brazil in 1998 and took some time to show his true worth in the famous yellow jersey. But he is now firmly established in the plans of national team coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, performing brilliantly in Brazil's Copa America triumph this summer.
The Coach - Christoph Daum
Controversial German boss who hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the summer of 2000 when he tested positive for cocaine, an affair which led to his country's FA abandoning plans to make him coach of the Nationalmannschaft.
An outspoken, no-nonsense boss, he has masterminded League titles in Germany (Stuttgart), Austria (Austria Wien) and Turkey (Besiktas and Fenerbahce). He has also worked at German clubs Koln and Bayer Leverkusen. Joined Fener at the start of last season.
Leeds United fans will forever be grateful to him for fielding too many foreign players against them in a European Cup first round, second-leg at Elland Road in 1992-93. Without his blunder, Stuttgart would have gone through on the away goals rule. However, UEFA ruled there should be a play-off in Barcelona, which Leeds duly won.
Verdict: Apart from Van Hooijdonk, Alex and young Turkish striker Tuncay Sanli, Fener do not have enough quality to survive the first round.
The Star Man - Karel Poborsky
Sparta fans all breathed a sigh of relief this summer with the announcement that the brilliant 32-year-old attacking midfielder had postponed plans to retire from the game and had signed a one-season extension. A wise move. The right-sided man was playing some of the best football of his carrer last term and was particularly effective for the Czech Repiuubluic at Euro 2004.
An marvellous package of trickey, speed and high workrate, he has played all over Europe, starting out with Ceske Budejovice, Viktoria Zizkov and Slvia Prague in his homeland, then emigrating to play for Manchester United, Benfica and Lazio. Returned home to join Sparta in 2002.
The Czech Republic's most capped player of all-time, he recently won his 100th cap. Nicknamed 'Express Train'.
The Weak Link - The Defence
Sparta are in period of transition defensively following the sale of Czech international Tomas Hubschman to Ukraine outfit Shakhtar Donetsk this summer. Hubschman, a former young Czech Player of the Year, had been a tower of strength for them in recent years and would-be replacements, Jiri Homola or Jiri Koubsky are not quite of the same calibre.
The other centre-back Petr Johana is solid enough but full-backs Pavel Pergl (right) and Martin Petras (left) can be sucked out of position.
Keeper Jaromir Blazek, the understudy to Czech national team number one Petr Cech, is a fine shot-stoper and very good in one-on-one situations. However, he has been known to make a mess of back passes.
The New Face - Jan Simak
Cultured Czech international playmaker brought in from German club Bayer Leverkusen. A schemer with sublime ball-skills, a great range of pass and knows where the goal is. However, he is not the most consistent of performers, flitting in and out of games.
Curently rebuilding his career at Sparta after missing most of last season with mental problems. On loan at Hannover, he went missing for a whole week in September 2003, with neither family, friends or club officials knowing where he was. Eventually tracked down in Prague, he said he wanted to quit the game and was diagnosed with depression. After many months of rest and recuperation, he is now ready for another shot.
Began with Czech club sides, Sokol Mezno, Tabor, Ceske Budejovice and Chmel Blsany before heading to Germany to play for Hannover in 2000.
The Coach - Frantiek Straka
This volatile, tough-talking ex-Czech national team libero replaced Jiri Kotrba as Sparta boss in March 2004, immediately leading his new team to the League and Cup double.
Played for Sparta for nine years (1979-88), folowed by an long spell in German football with Borussia Monchengladbach, Hansa Rostock and Wuppertal.
On hanging up his boots in 1998, he was a German-based player agent for a couple of years before moving into coaching, first with German regional league side Wuppertal, then Czech top flight club Teplice.
Verdict: To fall at the first fence.