Man Utd v Wolfsburg (CL Group B 2015-16)

wolfsburg

Well, we announced our return to Champions League football with a bit of a bang away to PSV a couple of weeks ago when Memphis Depay put us 1-0 ahead just before half-time only for PSV to knock in a quick-fire double to add insult to the injury we’d already witnessed against our lad Shaw.

But tonight we get the chance to go again and this time we’re at Old Trafford so hopefully the fans will be bouncing after being starved of these proper Champions League matches at Old Trafford for what now seems like an age.

The problem I’m having with United at the moment is that we’re actually doing quite well!

That, of course, is great but I still can’t quite decide if we’re awesome or everyone else in the Premier League is doing what they did in the 2012/13 Season and shooting themselves in the foot at every opportunity.

I refer, of course, to the fact that we are somehow top of the Premier League – a position I don’t think we’ve even held since we won the title in 2013.

There is, however, an exciting feel to our current line up and the two new youngsters Martial and Memphis (M&M) are doing wonders for my disillusionment at LvG’s seeming betrayal of United’s philosophy of giving exciting young players their chance, preferring instead to buy expensive but ready-made Galacticos last season.

I wish they’d come from somewhere even close to Manchester but hey-ho… you can’t have it all.

What all this means is that making any kind of prediction about tonight is very difficult (I’ve got it wrong pretty much every time I’ve tried this season).

I think two seasons of watching United struggle has really started to affect my judgement to the point where I’m actually pleasantly surprised when we’re not beaten by an underdog these days.

But maybe, just maybe, this isn’t a false dawn and really is the start of LvG finally getting to grips with things at United.

As for Wolfsburg… well, they have a few injury problems at the moment but seem to be doing fairly well in the Bundesliga (they’re currently fourth). They almost gave Bayern Munich a scare a last week when they took a 1-0 lead at the Allianz Arena only for the on-fire Lewandowski to come on for the second half and score five goals in ten ridiculous minutes.

I do feel that we need to win here tonight though as winning the home games has always been key to our success in these Group Stages. Fortunately, we’ve been pretty good at it down the years and have only lost four of our last 65 Champions League matches at Old Trafford with the last being against Real Madrid in Fergie’s final season.

So tonight, I’m looking for a proper Champions League night at Old Trafford. It’s getting nicely dark at around 7:30pm at the moment so the floodlights should be on full beam.

Hopefully they’ll be shining on a Manchester United victory.

PSV v Man Utd (CL 2015-16 Group Stage)

psv

Well, I have to say that it feels good to be back in this competition. The sideshow against Brugge was good but this is the real thing and it all gets underway tonight with a tricky away tie against last season’s Eredivisie Champions, PSV Eindhoven – the club that has a rich history of bringing through some top quality players (Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam anyone? I wouldn’t mind those two at their peak in the side tonight.)

They were, of course, also the team who sold us Memphis Depay who played a major role in their winning the title last season (he was their top goal-scorer) but have kept hold of their other main goal threat, Luuk de Jong who, you might remember, had a disappointing loan spell at Newcastle last year.

Our 3-1 win against Liverpool over the weekend was good for all kinds of reasons but I was particularly pleased to see the new lad Martial coming on towards the end and grabbing a debut goal and he should feature again tonight.

As for a prediction… it’s difficult because this really does feel like a completely new Manchester United side which still doesn’t really know what it’s doing.

The first half against Liverpool was appallingly poor from both sides but as the home side the onus was us to go for the win but our play was slow and negative. Apparently some words were spoken at half-time and the second half saw much more United-like performance.

This being an away game in the Champions League could well see LvG revert to the snoredom although our thrashing of Brugge away from home holds some promise that the shackles might not be used.

If we go for it then there’s no doubt that we can return from Holland with three points on the board. PSV are a good side but they’re not a great side and really don’t have anywhere close to the pedigree in this competition that we have and it’s over ten years since their best showing (a semi-final appearance) in the new format Champions League (although they did win the old European Cup in 1988).

Club Brugge v Man Utd (CL 2015-16 Qualifier 2nd Leg)

We go into tonight’s match leading 3-1 after the first leg at Old Trafford and I must admit to feeling much more positive after Fellaini’s late goal last week than I would have been going here just 2-1 ahead.

From a purely financial point of view, qualifying for the Champions League proper is worth perhaps at least £40 million to us so Fellaini might just have paid off his transfer fee in full (and more on top) last week.

Club Brugge showed last week that they are approaching this tie with no fear and a “Nothing to lose” type attitude and whilst I thought we’d get straight into them last week, it was the Belgian side who looked like the home side for the first 15-20 minutes and when Carrick put them into a shock lead inside ten minutes, it didn’t exactly go against the run of play.

With practically no strikers (Rooney looks more like a midfielder who doesn’t score many right now) it was hard to see how we would turn the tie around from that point but Memphis Depay stepped up to the plate and showed us all what he’s about with two great goals and a laser-guided cross right onto Fellaini’s head for the third.

A goal for us tonight should be more than enough to put this tie to bed but I suspect the emphasis will be on continuing our very good defensive record that has underpinned our season so far.

Club Brugge need to win 2-0 to go through so I expect them to start much as they did the first leg and try to grab that early goal which will put the whole tie on a knife-edge.

Despite the comings and goings at United over the last couple of seasons, we do retain a core of hugely experienced Champions League campaigners within the ranks though and that vast experience should be enough to get us through tonight and I think we’ll do just enough to secure our place back in the main event.

Man Utd v Club Brugge (CL Qualifier 1st Leg)

UEFA EL :  CLUB BRUGGE - GRASSHOPPER CLUB ZURICH

After an unthinkable season without Champions League football for Manchester United, we now have one foot in the competition “proper” but must first navigate this two-legged tie against Belgian side Club Brugge.

As ties go, this could have been worse and we must go into this with some optimism especially as, whatever problems we might have at the moment, Brugge appear to have the same problems three times over.

Thanks to their participation in last season’s Europa League, they ended last season completely shattered (one reason why I never believed we wanted any part of that thing during Moyes’ reign) and now have a very lengthy injury list.

Like us, they also have a bit of a goalkeeping problem (although, to be fair, Romero has looked half decent for us so far) and quite who will play in net for them for this tie is hard to say at the moment and it could well be their loan signing from Porto, Bolat, who starts tonight.

Our own problems are largely down to LvG once again buying half a team over the summer and is now attempting to get these players fitting into a system which even the existing players never quite got to grips with for the duration of last season.

We’re also looking awfully toothless up-front and whilst 1-0 is a perfectly acceptable scoreline, to have achieved this twice in our opening two games, probably illustrates just how toothless we are right now. Especially when you take into account that the goal against Tottenham was an own-goal and our goal against Villa wasn’t a great shot from Januzaj and it was a cruel deflection that caused it to beat their keeper.

Rooney has looked like a spare part for much of our opening two games and it probably speaks volumes that Hernandez, despite being loaned out to Real Madrid last season, is now our second-choice and looks likely to be the man LvG will have to turn to for goals tonight.

Right now, I’d even take Falcao back purely on the basis that he can’t possibly be any worse than last season.

I never thought I’d be saying this either but having Fellaini available who has so far been unavailable for our domestic games due to suspension is a boon.

For anyone trying to predict what will happen tonight it is near-impossible.

I think I’ll just work on the basis that a goal-fest looks unlikely. A low-scoring home win with a clean sheet might be the best we can hope for.

Match Preview: Bayern Munich v Man Utd (CL 2013-14 Qtr Final 2nd Leg)

schwein-rooney

After our 1-1 draw with Bayern in the first leg, David Moyes has probably come in for criticism and praise in equal amounts from the United fans.

After eight days of thinking about it, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that Moyes played a blinder. As I said after the match, I don’t want this to be the future of Manchester United but, given the situation right now, I’ll accept it for the pragmatism it is.

Moyes has said all along that he wanted to make both legs of this tie meaningful.

Had we gone all gung-ho last week and made it a willy-waving contest, there’s every possibility that we’d be heading for the Allianz Arena tonight looking to overcome a 3-0 or 4-1 deficit and that ain’t happening!

I think Moyes showed great maturity with his tactics and showed the strength of his character. He knew that fighting off the ropes like that, especially at Old Trafford, would bring criticism but he’s clearly strong enough to take that and point to the fact that we live to fight another day as the end that justifies the means.

This tie is still very much alive and, perhaps against all logic, I’m feeling quite confident about it.

I suspect we will see a bit more of the same from the team tonight – defend in numbers and try to catch Bayern on the break. However, this does become a bit of a test of Guardiola’s character.

The fact is that Bayern don’t really need to pile forward looking for goals. If we defend in numbers and Bayern defend in numbers, the game ends 0-0 and Bayern go through on the away goal rule.

However, you do get the feeling that Bayern don’t play it that way and that they will want to exert their superiority, especially in front of their home crowd who simply aren’t accustomed to seeing their side do much other than win at the Allianz.

And so the stage is set for United to attempt to repeat what they did at Old Trafford last week; only this time without Danny Welbeck’s brain-fart to thwart the plan.

That all said, I do think that United will have to be a little more adventurous tonight. The way I see it, we need to score two goals.

Yes, by going for those two goals, we may well have to leave some space at the back and we will need to pass far, far better than we did at Old Trafford last week in order to keep possession for more than five seconds at a time but, the fact is that it doesn’t matter too greatly if Bayern score one or two of their own.

A 2-2 scoreline will suit us just fine.

So, whilst Guardiola strongly believes that we will defend deep again, I do wonder if we might just have a little surprise up our sleeve for him. If we can score the first goal tonight then it suddenly becomes Bayern who are living on a knife-edge.

Besides, maybe Pep hasn’t noticed but we’ve actually been better away from home this season. I’m not sure where he gets this idea that we’re far more attacking at home. That really hasn’t been the case for much of this season.

I think this is going to be one hell of a match and whilst it has to be conceded that Bayern are favourites, I think they will know from the first leg that we have the players to cause them major problems.

Come on United!

Match Preview: Man Utd v Bayern Munich (CL 2013-14 Quarter Final 1st Leg)

ribery-rafa

For all David Moyes’ travails this season, a Quarter Final appearance in Europe’s premier competition represents our best showing for three seasons and, for that, he should be applauded.

The away leg against Olympiacos aside (which was the worst performance I’ve seen from a United team in thirty years), we have actually looked like a half-decent side in this competition so far.

However, it cannot be denied that Bayern Munich represent our toughest challenge by a country mile.

Bayern Munich have been, hands down, the best team in Europe for the last couple of years.

The way they completely dismantled the mighty Barcelona in last year’s competition was a sight to behold and, had you not watched the tie, you’d have thought the 7-0 aggregate score (4-0 home, 3-0 away) was a misprint or, on a day like today, some kind of joke.

This season, they have shown little sign that they are any less of a force and their win over Arsenal in the previous round was perhaps less convincing but it was clinical and professional.

At this stage of the competition, the bookies make Bayern quite strong favourites to lift the European Cup again and with good reason. Not only are they probably the best team left in the competition but, having already secured the Bundesliga title, they have an advantage over at least half of the teams left in this competition as those others look likely to be involved in domestic league title challenges until the last day of the season.

Bayern can now more or less concentrate solely on this competition.

This was in evidence over the weekend as Pep Guardiola took full advantage of the situation to give several key players a rest against Hoffenheim. That match ended with what, under any other circumstance, would have been a shock 3-3 draw but, in the current situation, represented just a further cementing of the fact that even when leaving out some big-hitters and having little to play for, Bayern couldn’t be beaten.

The match didn’t come without some cost to Bayern, though, as Thiago suffered a knee injury which could well mean that his season is over.

Anyway, that’s enough about Bayern for now. What about ourselves?

Well, to say that we’ve been pretty poor for the bulk of this season is an understatement and it has to be said that it is against the better opponents that we’ve been most exposed.

The 4-1 victory over Aston Villa over the weekend might have been a welcome fillip for the beleaguered David Moyes in the same way that the 2-0 win over West Ham was a welcome victory a couple of weeks ago.

Those results cannot erase the fact that they are set amongst a sequence of results that include two 3-0 defeats at Old Trafford against Liverpool and Man City and as well as those two teams may be playing at the moment, the suggestion is that Bayern are better.

My main concern going into this match is the same concern I’ve had for much of the season – our defence.

Sometimes due to needless tinkering and sometimes due to injury, I don’t think Moyes has played the same back-four twice at any point this season. This really isn’t good.

The best United teams of the past were based on a pretty settled back-four. Yes, Fergie would rotate here and there but when the big boys came to town, only an injury or suspension to one of the key components would prevent him from going with his first-choice defensive line-up.

A defence of Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra all at their peak would inspire some confidence that we might be able to thwart Bayern here.

Unfortunately, Ferdinand is now so far from his peak that he’s barely recognisable, Vidic, who has always been a bit of a liability is now a liability with one foot through the exit door and Evra, even if he wasnt’t suspended for this match, is now challenging the Trade Descriptions Act for the term “defender”.

So, this does look like the defence Moyes will put out will be another hotch-potch of the untried, the cobbled-together and the unknown.

Buttner looks likely to take Evra’s place and, I suspect Jones and Vidic may well take the central positions. There seem to be doubts about Rafael’s fitness and, if unable to play, then it looks likely that Smalling will occupy the right-back spot.

Had at least three of those four played together many times this season and had a bundle of clean-sheets behind them, I’d be feeling a little more confident right now but, as it stands, it is hard not to be concerned.

I suppose that in the face of this, there are two schools of thought as to how we should approach this match.

The first involves being solid, taking few risks and playing to frustrate Bayern and spoil their game-plan.

The second is the view that attack is the best form of defence and, if a clean-sheet is unlikely then let’s go all out to score as many of our own as we can and throw all caution to the wind.

The second is a little how we played the last time we faced Bayern at Old Trafford four years ago.

The first is probably a little more familiar to David Moyes, though.

Beyond the defence, Moyes has a few decisions to make. With Mata being ineligible for this competition and Van Persie injured, it does make his task a little easier but there is still scope for him to get it horribly wrong and, based on some of his team selections so far this season, he has it in him to do it again.

It could well be that Moyes goes for a five-man midfield with Rooney playing up-front of his own and I wouldn’t have many qualms about that.

It’s the five behind him that are the concern and if Moyes plays either Cleverley or Young then I will have no alternative but to give up on him as a lost cause who learns nothing from his mistakes.

One player I would like to see is Kagawa and a Kagawa played more centrally behind Rooney. Moyes has given him a few chances of late and he has shown his quality but I think he needs a run of games to really get settled. The stop-start nature of his time at Manchester United has really done him no favours whatsoever (that and being mostly played out of position).

He’s no stranger to beating Bayern Munich, though and I think I’m right in saying that when at Dortmund, he played against Bayern four times and was never on the losing side.

So, how will this game go?

Well, the obvious view to take is that Bayern will be too strong in midfield and that we will spend most of the time without the ball. Then there are their wide players Robben and Ribery who could well have Smalling and Buttner (or whoever Moyes puts out there) for dinner. Then there’s the possibility that one of them will get into the box and Jones or, (more likely) Vidic, will concede a penalty and be given a red card making an already very difficult task next to impossible.

What this will mean is that Bayern will win comfortably this evening and another 3-0 (or worse) defeat is not out of the question.

However, I’m going to put on my red-tinted specs for the remainder of this article and clutch at a few straws.

Firstly, I don’t put an awful lot of importance on how good Bayern have been in the Bundesliga this season. I think the English Premier League is a far better, more competitive league.

The Bundesliga is basically Bayern then all the rest.

Bayer Leverkusen finished second in the Bundesliga last season and you might remember how, despite the fact that we’re having our worst season for twenty-odd years, we still managed to beat them home and away in our Group Stage clashes for a 9-2 aggregate score (which really could have been even more convincing for us had we not missed a couple of sitters).

If you’re thinking that this is because Leverkusen are not the force they were last season then consider that they are currently 4th in the Bundesliga and, if they stay there, will qualify for next season’s Champions League again.

Secondly, I do take some heart from how Arsenal played against Bayern Munich in the last round.

Bayern Munich were generally better than Arsenal and I do believe that they would have beaten Arsenal even if Arsenal hadn’t suffered the triple-whammy of having their keeper sent off meaning Bayern took the lead through the resulting penalty but I think Bayern found Arsenal a fairly tough nut to crack. (In any case, am I the only person in the world who thought that the way Robben went lunging in with foot chest-high and studs showing was far more dangerous than anything our own Nani did against a Real Madrid player last season? I am? Oh… ok. fair enough.)

Despite the fact that our league table suggests otherwise, I do believe that we’re still a better, stronger side than Arsenal and if Moyes gets it right with his selections and those selected give 100% (I have no doubts that they will) then we’re not quite the massive underdogs that our odds (13/2 with some at the time of writing – the highest price Manchester United have been for a home game in twenty years) suggest.

In any case, if favourites always won football matches, the bookies would have long since gone out of business.

Thirdly, no team has ever successfully defended this title. I don’t really know why this is but it remains a fact. I do suspect that a little bit of luck comes into play. Being largely a knock-out tournament then you only need one game in which things don’t really go for you and it can be curtains.

The team that wins this competition isn’t always truly “the best team in Europe”. Sometimes it can be a team that plays well but also gets a few breaks along the way.

Fourthly, we have Ryan Giggs. The architect of our 3-0 win over Olympiacos a few weeks ago was in fine form in yesterday’s pre-match press conference – he really has grown from the slightly shy young man of yesteryear.

He might not have played as often as he’d have liked this season and he might not be as hands-on in his coaching role as he’d like but he’s the role model on and off the pitch right now.

Not only can the players learn an awful lot from him but so can David Moyes.

Whilst David Moyes trotted out his usual asinine rubbish in the press conference, Giggs took over the mic and spoke like a true Manchester United manager should speak and I’m sure that the words he chose were as much for the ears of David Moyes as the gathered press. It was an attempt to arrest the alarming slump into mediocrity that Moyes has tried to foist upon the club in order to make his mediocre self feel more at home, to remind him and everyone else that this is Manchester United – the club that has been going into battle with the likes of Bayern for decades and usually giving as good as we’ve got.

It was a reminder to Moyes and everyone else that, for all Moyes might have said about how even Sir Alex would have struggled with this group of players the other day, that this group of players are largely the same group that reached three Champions League Finals in four years and stunned Bayern by racing ahead to a 2-0 lead inside seven minutes the last time they came to Old Trafford four years ago.

We are Manchester United and we are playing at home and we don’t see ourselves as underdogs“, said Giggs.

Were you listening, David Moyes?

You are talking about two huge clubs, with great histories who play football the right way“, said Giggs.

Were you listening, David Moyes?

So, the final straw I’m going to clutch is one that looks a bit like this:-

That Moyes breaks the habit of a lifetime and really goes for it with both his team selection and tactics.

That Moyes sends the team out here to win and to really rattle Bayern. That this leads Bayern into making a few mistakes (possibly even in their own penalty area) and that we’re the beneficiary of luck’s fickleness for once this season.

Come On, United!

Match Preview: Man Utd v Olympiacos (CL 2013-14)

Hard to believe but this could well be our last match in the Champions League for at least 18 months or so.

After twenty successive years in the competition under Sir Alex Ferguson, it is looking very much like it has taken David Moyes little more than six months to break yet another proud record.

After my initial ambivalence towards David Moyes, I’m afraid that I have become one of his harshest critics and even going into this game his demeanour still doesn’t convince me that he is the right man for this club.

At yesterday’s press conference, he was still at it and it is all becoming so laughably predicatable that I’m not even sure that he’s not doing it on purpose to wind United fans up now.

After starting to count the number of times he used the word “try”, I gave up in the end. We will “try” to do this. We will “try” to do that.

This is Manchester United. This is Old Trafford. We don’t try – we do. This isn’t arrogance, it isn’t disrespect – it is just an acknowledgement of the fact that we are head and shoulders above the likes of Olympiacos and it is for them to come here tonight and try to stop us from having our wicked way with them.

This is an actual quote from David Moyes in yesterday’s press conference:-

We’ll leave nothing behind on the night, hopefully, and we’ll try and make sure we somehow get through to the next round.

Now maybe I’m being unkind on David Moyes, maybe I’m reading far too much into his words but… hopefully? somehow?

David Moyes also assured us in yesterday’s press conference that he has a long-term plan. Words like “hopefully” and “somehow” suggest otherwise.

I would expect a top level manager to know exactly how we are going to overcome Olympiacos tonight. Of course, I don’t expect him to explicitly share those plans with all and sundry at a press conference but I think that a bit more assertiveness and positivity isn’t too much to ask.

“Somehow” and “hopefully” suggest no plan other than what the very words suggest – that he has a hope that we’ll plonk around for ninety minutes and somehow the ball will end up in their net three times.

It really is appalling from the manager of “the biggest club in the world” (once again, David Moyes’ words from yesterday’s press conference).

At various stages this season Moyes has publicly cast doubts on the quality of the squad he has inherited and has publicly questioned their “mental toughness” (I mean, seriously, what the hell kind of manager agrees with a reporter who suggests that his team lack “mental toughness”? FFS!)

This group of players is, by and large, the same group of players who just last season in this very competition gave the mighty Real Madrid the fight of their lives until the referee stepped in to give Real one big helping hand late into the second leg.

Yesterday, I suggested that Moyes (probably due to his constant undermining of the players) had finally lost the backing of those players. I think tonight will go a long way towards confirming or refuting that claim.

If we see a display as abject as we witnessed in the first leg then I think there can be no doubt that he has indeed lost the dressing room.

However, Patrice Evra was sitting alongside Moyes in yesterday’s Press Conference and had quite a few things to say. Many of the things he was saying were the things that Moyes should have been saying.

Evra spoke about playing for the club, playing for the shirt (again, maybe I’m reading too much into it but at no point did he say anything about playing for the manager or even express any kind of support for his beleaguered manager) and promised us fans that we would be proud of the team tonight.

From this, I do think that we will see a more spirited performance and I do think that we may well even win the game.

However, I can see a United win on the night but Olympiacos going through on the away goal rule.

That way, the players give the fans a victory but leave Moyes sitting amidst the rubble of a disastrous season of his own making.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope to see United blow Olympiacos away. 3-0 against Olympiacos at Old Trafford really wouldn’t have been seen as an unrealistic target at any other point in the last 15-20 years.

Tonight we will not only see what United under Moyes can do this but we will be left with no doubt about whether they even want to.

Prior to that shocking performance against Olympiacos in the first leg, I really thought that we would go all out to win this competition. I likened our situation to that of Liverpool’s in 2005.

I’d just like to end this article with a little bit more on that which is quite spooky…

In the 2004/05 season, Liverpool had a new manager (Benitez). They went out of the FA Cup in the 3rd Round that season. In order to get out of their Group, Liverpool had to beat a Greek side by two clear goals… that side was Olympiacos. Liverpool beat them 3-1 at Anfield in the very last game of the group stage. The rest is history.

3-1 won’t be enough for us tonight but it is a scoreline that will probably leave us fans proud of the team (as Evra promised) but will not relieve any of the pressure on Moyes because our season will be over well before the end of March and only one man carries the can for that.

Over to you, Dave. Try not to embarrass us further.

Match Preview: Olympiacos v Man Utd (CL 2013-14)

Much has been made (on this very site plus many other places) of the fact that David Moyes has somehow managed to make the reigning Premier League Champions look extremely ordinary in the Premier League this season.

At this stage, a fifth placed finish would seem to be as high as we can realistically expect to finish.

If we’re going to qualify for the Champions League next season then it would seem that our only hope is to actually win it this season.

It’s a highly unlikely scenario although I do have to keep reminding myself that stranger things have happened in football and in this competition in particular.

The slight problem is that whilst we have been pretty dominant domestically for the last few years, our displays in this competition have been quite disappointing.

We went out at this stage last season and didn’t even get beyond the Group Stage the year before.

If Moyes navigates this Last 16 tie successfully then he will have finally done something which suggests an element of “progress” and I do think that this is what us United fans are most looking for from Moyes at this stage.

I’ve spoken with a number of United fans who are concerned that Moyes lacks the tactical nous necessary at this, the very highest level of club football and will be exposed by the more tactically astute managers and coaches.

The good news is that we have been generally quite impressive in this competition so far and came through our group stage unbeaten and with an excellent tally of fourteen points.

The two standout results have to be the 4-2 and 5-0 against Bayer Leverkusen. That 5-0 away from home was quite stunning and made me think twice about Moyes’ reputation for negative football.

The gloss has been taken off those two results to a certain extent as PSG recently dismantled Leverkusen 4-0 at the BayArena (and this all makes me wonder just how strong the Bundesliga really is).

However, it does make predicting how Moyes will set up here tonight all the more difficult.

Under normal circumstances, to have the first leg away from home would be the ideal scenario. If we can score a goal tonight then 1-1 or even a 2-1 defeat would not be bad results.

I’d like to see Moyes adopt a similar approach to the Bayer Leverkusen game though and set his team out to take it to Olympiacos. One goal would be good, two goals would be great.

It won’t be easy here tonight as Olympiacos are currently way out in front of the Greek Super League after 24 wins, two draw and no defeats so far this season (they have won all 13 of their home games) but perhaps the form-line is there with the PSG/Bayer/United/Olympiacos results.

PSG topped the group containing Olympiacos and beat them 4-1 at the Karaiskakis Stadium.

We have to draw inspiration from that and whilst 4-1 might be stretching it a bit, I think we can certainly come away from this evening with a win under our belt and that’s going to form the basis of my bet.

 

Man Utd v Shakhtar Donetsk (Champions League 2013-14)

giggs-shakhtar

Whatever we might think of the Moyes reign thus far, he has at least achieved one thing – we’re through to the knockout stages of the Champions League no matter what happens here tonight.

Well… it’s something Fergie failed to do just a couple of seasons ago and gawd knows what the United faithful would be saying right now if Moyes had repeated the feat.

Unless my thinking of how this competition works is wrong, we will qualify as group winners tonight regardless of the result – unless Shakhtar beat us 7-0 or something.

Quite frankly, at this stage, I don’t care. I just want to know that we’re through to the next stage. We can tackle who we’re drawn against when the time comes.

It is perhaps more sensible to look at this game from the eyes of Shaktar who currently lie in second place in the group.

A win for them seems to be crucial. It has to be assumed, given how the games in the group have gone so far, that Bayer Leverkusen, who are just a point behind Shakhtar, will beat Real Sociedad and so will leapfrog Shakhtar should Shakhtar fail to beat us here tonight.

I do believe that a draw won’t be good enough for Bayer even if Shakhtar lose against us.

For the avoidance of any doubt, Shakhtar must come into this game looking for a win.

Given our recent record at Old Trafford, I would say that we’ve probably given them every encouragement to do exactly that.

So, I think we can expect Shakhtar to give it everything they have. No matter what happens, Europa League, as a minimum, is guaranteed for them.

They have everything to gain by just going for it here tonight.

As for us, well, I think Moyes has a “free hit” here tonight. A defeat will have the press on his case but I think I’m getting a feel for Moyes at this stage and I think he shares Fergie’s stubbornness.

He won’t risk anyone tonight who will be better rested for out next Premier League match.

I don’t think he will see this as a “must win” simply because he might get a bit of stick tomorrow morning if we get beat.

I think he will see this one as a chance to try out a few ideas and to hell with the consequences should they fail.

Our Sunday match against Villa is far more important than this one.

Funnily enough, I think this more relaxed attitude will pay dividends and we will win. I do believe that we are playing with extreme discomfort in the Premier League at the moment and this is affecting performances.

However, backing United to win at the moment (even though the price is tempting) seems to be suicidal.

I think this one will be a fairly open game and goals will be scored at both ends.

Bayer Leverkusen v Man Utd (Champions League 2013-14)

rvpv-bayer

Our 4-2 win over this team in our first game aside, we’ve made hard work of this qualifying campaign so far and with one or two injuries to key players, things aren’t looking quite as straight-forward as they were before we tamely settled for a 0-0 draw against Sociedad a few weeks ago.

I have to say that for all the hype over this German side, I wasn’t overly impressed by them at Old Trafford. As already said, we won the game 4-2 but we missed two sitters and it really could have been a thrashing.

Manager Sami Hyypia has admitted that his side were “frightened” to play their football at Old Trafford in the first game but suggests that there will be no repeat at their own place this evening. A view I’d be inclined to agree with.

Away to Shakhtar Dontesky, they managed just a 0-0 draw but at home, Bayer stuffed Shakhtar 4-0.

In the Bundesliga, Bayer are unbeaten at home so far this season (won 6, drawn 1) so this represents no easy task for us this evening.

Our task is made all the more difficult due to the fact that we have big players missing right through the spine of our team. Vidic, Carrick and Van Persie are all out for this match.

To add to our midfield problems, Fellaini will also miss out this evening due to suspension.

What I suspect we’ll see is a 4-4-1-1 type formation with Phil Jones in midfield and Rooney dropping in there to pack it out and stifle Bayer. I think we’ll be looking to come away with a draw with the possibility of nicking a 1-0.

Depending on what happens in the other Group A game, a draw here tonight might be enough to secure qualification but if Shakhtar beat Sociedad then a draw for us will leave everything resting on the final round of fixtures with three teams battling for the two places and with us playing Shakhtar at Old Trafford in the last match, we can expect a nerve-jangling finale to a group campaign which, with a little more positivity, could have been wrapped up by now.

A win here tonight will secure our qualification though and that is the carrot dangling in front of Moyes.

Does he have the balls to grab it?