By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
‘Oh god! What an awful journey. We had to sit through two Katherine Heigl movies! It was unbearable’
Managers often grumble about the long midweek journeys they often have to make in the name of Champions League football.
- The airports and connecting flights
- the seemingly endless run of in-flight rom-coms
- the figuring out how to change the time on your watch/smart phone
- the security guards who think they’re helping the local team by giving you an uncomfortably detailed body search
It’s all very unsettling to the senses and it’s understandable that managers and players see it as less than ideal preparation for any game, let alone one that’s crucial to your hopes of milking UEFA’s cash cow until well into the new year. After a run of suspect form, Manchester United look vulnerable on their roughly 4,500 mile round trip to take on Shahktar Donetsk in Ukraine. The Paddy Power Blog have broken out the history books and the map to see how United have traditionally performed after long distance travel in the Champions League.
First up, it’s important to admit that the definition of ‘long distance’ is a little inexact, mainly because getting yourself to the back arse of the Czech Republic could ultimately take far longer than going direct to Moscow, but it is meant to reflect significant flying times.
A simple rule of thumb is ‘if it goes over three hours in the air and you’ve enough time to make a start on your second rom-com of the flight’ then it’s gone beyond a short commute. We’re ignoring what can be classed as short haul flights. Straightforward hops to the major cities of western Europe are now more common than vague excuses from Alan Pardew, so they shouldn’t cause too many problems. That’s why the line is placed where it is. It’s roughly about 1,000 miles from Manchester and the point were transport gets trickier, time zones get more complicated and excuses get more justifiable.
The good news is United have built up a good record from their longer Champions League excursions over the years. Since United’s first appearance in the Champions League back in the 1993/94 season, 18 times they’ve gone beyond the familiar confines of west and central Europe and into ‘long haul’ territory emerging with:
- a 61 per cent win rate
- draws in 22 per cent of those games
- defeats just 17 per cent of the time
It might be a pain in the arse, but United seem well equipped to handle, coming back with 11 wins, four draws and just three defeats. To further give those encouraging stats a shot in the arm, at least a couple of those defeats were in – not quite dead rubbers, but those ‘games in which victory is less than essential’ that the Champions League has a habit of producing.
There’s no doubt United aren’t the team they were under Fergie. That said, they’ve also a proven track record of getting results away from home in the Champions League. They may be struggling, but even in adversity, there’s still a chance they’ll manage to get their happy ending. Every torturous rom-com we’ve ever sat through tells us that.