FC Midtjylland
Manchester United were paired with FC Midtjylland during December's Europa League draw in Nyon, Switzerland AFP

Manchester United's eagerly anticipated return to the Champions League after a one-year absence that came as a consequence of the ill-fated David Moyes era proved to be shortlived. Louis van Gaal's side failed to secure passage through to the first knockout round following an eventful 3-2 defeat to Wolfsburg in December and, as a consequence of finishing third in Group B behind PSV Eindhoven but ahead of CSKA Moscow, they must now enter the dreaded Europa League.

United's last foray into Europe's oft-maligned secondary club competition came back in 2011-12, when a side just months removed from finishing as Champions League runners-up to Barcelona at Wembley failed to beat Benfica or Basel. On that occasion, a team under Sir Alex Ferguson narrowly ousted Ajax before falling to a 5-3 aggregate defeat to Marco Bielsa's vibrant Athletic Bilbao.

This time, the 20-time English champions have been handed an assignment against something of an unknown quantity in FC Midtjylland. With the first leg set to take place on 18 February, IBTimes UK provides a brief insight into the Danish Superliga champions...

Where do they play?

MCH Arena
FC Midtjylland are based at MCH Arena in Herning, Denmark Getty

Midtjylland, formed in 1999 after the merger of Ikast FS and Herning Fremad, play their home matches at the MCH Arena in Herning, a city in the Central Jutland Region of Denmark. The ground, originally known as the Messecenter Herning Stadion, can hold up to 11,800 spectators. However, there has been no shortage of controversy this week with many of the 800 travelling United supporters planning to protest at having to pay £71 ($101) per ticket.

That figure is a £49 increase on the amount Southampton fans were charged ahead of their decisive 1-0 play-off round defeat in August. Defending that pricing structure, director Cliff Crown recently told Talksport: "We are only a small club in small region of Denmark and this is our cup final so we have to make the most of our opportunity."

Notable players

Midtjylland are currently captained by Kristian Bak Nielsen, the 33-year-old midfielder who spent seven years with the club between 2000-07 before returning in 2010 following a spell in the Eredivisie with Heerenveen. Boyhood United fan Mikkel Duelund has netted four goals this season and the 18-year-old Danish youth international is believed to be attracting attention from Liverpool.

Mikkel Andersen
Mikkel Andersen returned to Denmark after his Reading contract expired in June 2015 Getty

Other recognisable names include goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen, who spent eight years with Reading but was very much seen as backup to the likes of Alex McCarthy and Adam Federici, as evidenced by his eight temporary spells away from the Madejski Stadium. Defenders Nikolay Bodurov and Daniel O'Shaughnessy are currently on loan from Fulham and Brentford respectively.

Jakob Poulsen possesses a good pedigree after a stint with Monaco and Czech forward Vaclav Kadlec has also been highly rated (mainly by Football Manager's scouting team). Tim Sparv and Kristoffer Olsson began their careers at Southampton and Arsenal respectively, while former Celtic striker Morten Rasmussen departed for AGF Aarhus during the January transfer window.

Who is their manager?

Jess Thorup has been in charge of first-team affairs at Midtjylland since July 2015. The 45-year-old former Esbjerg fB boss, who endured a long playing career in Scandinavia and Germany as a striker without ever winning a senior international cap, had previously impressed by guiding Denmark to the semi-finals of last summer's European Under-21 Championship, where they were beaten 4-1 by Sweden in Prague.

Glen Riddersholm was the man who guided the club to their maiden Danish title last term, but he surprisingly resigned just weeks later after admitting that there were everyday compromises that he could no longer accept if he "wanted to remain the best version of myself and the leader I want to be for the players and staff." He is now three months into his reign as manager of top-flight newcomers AGF, having replaced Morten Wieghorst in December.

Jess Thorup
Jess Thorup replaced fellow Dane Glen Riddersholm as Midtjylland manager in 2015 AFP

How good is their league form?

Midtjylland's first Superliga crown was secured last season after the Wolves won 22 of their 33 league fixtures, eventually finishing four points ahead of FC Copenhagen. So far this term, they have won nine of 17 matches with four draws and four defeats. That leaves them third, four points adrift of Copenhagen and three behind second-place Aalborg BK before the annual Danish winter break ends after nearly three months on 29 February.

Having not kicked a ball in competitive action since drawing with Club Brugge in December, Midtjylland have drawn three consecutive friendly matches against Swedish opposition in AIK, IFK Göteborg and Malmo. They also beat Danish first division outfit AC Horsens 4-2 last weekend.

How have they fared on the continent?

2015-16 represents Midtjylland's ninth year of European football, although this is the first time they have advanced beyond the Europa League play-off round since 2008. Their best-ever run in the old Uefa Cup came 13 years ago, when they advanced past Varazdin and reached the second round before being comfortably beaten 6-1 by Anderlecht over two legs.

They have reached the first round on three other occasions, losing to Sporting Lisbon, CSKA Moscow and Lokomotiv Moscow. Their previous two campaigns were ended at the final qualifying hurdle by BSC Young Boys and Panathinaikos respectively, although this time around they avoided a similar outcome by overcoming Southampton with a 1-0 second-leg win that came after a creditable 1-1 draw at St Mary's.

FC Midtjylland
FC Midtjylland beat Premier League Southampton 2-1 on aggregate to advance to the group stages of the Europa League Getty

Midtjylland later finished second in Group D, despite only winning twice against Legia Warsaw and Club Brugge. They shipped a total of nine goals in their two meetings with Napoli, losing 4-1 at home and 5-0 away. Thorup's men have already played 12 games in Europe already this year, with their attempts to secure a place in the group stages of the Champions League ending with defeat to Cypriot champions Apoel in the third qualifying round.

Any interesting facts?

English football enthusiasts may be more familiar with formerly cash-strapped Midtjylland since Brentford chief Matthew Benham became their majority shareholder and appointed Bees chairman Crown to the board in July 2014.

As the owner of London-based company Smartodds, which provides statistical research and sports modelling services to professional gamblers, Benham has become renowned for his stringently analytical approach to the game that has been likened to the Moneyball system employed by Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics under the guidance of general manager Billy Beane.

Midtjylland are also known for their impressive youth academy, which has previously produced the likes of experienced Fenerbahce defender Simon Kjær and West Ham centre-back Winston Reid.