"For a club of our standing and history to win the competition twice is not what we perceive as acceptable," admitted the United secretary Ken Ramsden at the headquarters of Uefa, the European game's governing body, in Nyon. "But Sir Alex Ferguson has an excellent squad."
It will be seven years since Ferguson lifted the second of United's European Cups by the time the tournament he cherishes most concludes in Paris next spring, a wait that became even more testing when Liverpool conjured up their fifth triumph in May. Amid infighting in Japan the United manager can at least prepare his latest campaign in confidence after being given an unimposing route towards the group stage.
The first-time Hungarian champions Debreceni are the most likely opponents for United after a 3-0 first leg win over the Croats, and have consented to move the second leg against United from their 7,600 capacity stadium on 23 or 24 August.
Ramsden said: "It's a real step into the unknown - there's so much uncertainty. Debreceni have told us that if they got a big team they would move the game to Budapest."
United produced one of their worst European performances against Hungarian opposition when they last played in the qualifying rounds three years ago, losing 1-0 against Zalaegerszeg before winning the Old Trafford return 5-0.
Only one ticket ultimately separated Everton from Liverpool and Uefa from allegations of a conspiracy in yesterday morning's draw. When it was unfolded to reveal the name the Spanish club Villarreal, the third-best team in the Primera Liga last season and Uefa Cup semi-finalists in 2004, only Everton, the Spaniards' opponents at Goodison Park on 9 August, failed to embrace the widespread sense of relief.
Everton's chairman Bill Kenwright met two autograph-hunting supporters before he entered Uefa's headquarters, but the noises emanating from last season's surprise successes after the draw lacked bravado.
Kenwright said: "It's just lovely to be here in the draw. Twenty years ago we would have been here by right, year in year out, and then Heysel happened. So to come back here, there is a part of you that feels we should be here anyway and another part that has to say it's a miracle from a miracle manager."
David Moyes may need to produce another miracle to take Everton onwards following a summer in the transfer market that has yielded only two new players, the Welsh winger Simon Davies and Danish centre-half Per Kroldrup.
Kenwright said: "I think there will definitely be movement in the transfer market before the season and, hopefully, some before we play Villarreal - it would be an incredible amount of wasted hard work if we didn't get some new players in soon."
Villarreal have added the Juventus midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi and Barcelona playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme to a squad strengthened by the rediscovered goalscoring talents of the former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan.
Mikel Arteta, who made his loan move from Real Sociedad to Everton permanent for £2.2m a fortnight ago, said: "It's going to be very difficult. We haven't been very lucky, to be honest. They had a great season last year and have so many good players, but there's still a chance and we still have the opportunity to go through. But, to be honest, if I could have chosen, I'd never have chosen Villarreal.
"They like to play football. They played the best football in Spain along with Barcelona last year. They have great players in Juan Roman Riquelme, Diego Forlan, Juan Pablo Sorin - international players at a good level - so we'll have to be at the top of our game to beat them."
The biggest problem confronting Villarreal this summer has been caused by Liverpool, who lured the Spain goalkeeper Jose Reina away from the Estadio El Madrigal for £6m last month.
"I'll be asking Reina about them and use my own knowledge of playing in Spain to try and identify their weaknesses," Arteta added.
Liverpool, who hold a 3-1 second-round first-leg lead over FBK Kaunas of Lithuania, face another trip to eastern Europe in the third round should they win through, having been paired with CSKA Sofia or Tirana of Albania. A date in Bulgaria is expected, with Sofia 2-0 up from the first leg. The Liverpool second leg would be away on August 23, three days before the Anfield club take on Lokomotiv Moscow in the Super Cup in Monaco.
Rangers are planning a trip to Cyprus to play Anorthosis Famagusta, who were 3-1 winners against Trabzonspor of Turkey in their first leg. Should the unthinkable happen and Celtic overturn their 5-0 deficit against Artmedia Bratislava, Partizan Belgrade or the Macedonian side Sheriff would await.
Champions' League draw
Third Qualifying Round
Basle (Swit) v Werder Bremen (Ger)
Artmedia Bratislava (Slovak) or Celtic v Partizan Belgrade (Serb-M) or Sherif Tiraspol (Mol)
Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukr) v Internazionale (It)
Shelbourne or Steaua Bucharest (Rom) v Rosenborg (Nor)
Manchester Utd v Debrecen (Hun) or Hajduk Split (Croa)
Malmo (Swe) or Maccabi Haifa (Isr) v Dynamo Kiev (Ukr) or Thun (Swit)
Everton v Villarreal (Sp)
FBK Kaunas (Lith) or Liverpool v SK Tirane (Alb) or CSKA Sofia (Bul)
Sporting (Por) v Udinese (It)
Valerenga Oslo (Nor) or Haka Valkeakoski (Fin) v Club Bruges (Bel)
F91 Dudelange (Lux) or Rapid Vienna (Aut) v Rabotnicki Skopje (Maced) or Lokomotiv Moscow (Rus)
Anderlecht (Bel) or Neftchi Baku (Azer) v Slavia Prague (Cz Rep)
Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyp) or Trabzonspor (Tur) v Rangers
Dynamo Tbilisi (Geo) or Brondby (Den) v Ajax (Neth)
Real Betis (Sp) v Monaco (Fr)
Wisla Krakow (Pol) v Panathinaikos (Gr)
First legs to be played 9 or 10 August, with second legs on 23 or 24 AugustReuse content