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

Stefan_Kiessling

Stefan_KiesslingWhilst I think we should have the beating of Leverkusen, this isn’t the easiest of European baptisms Moyes could have hoped for but after the start to the season we’ve had (and are still having – City and Liverpool follow this one!) he’s probably becoming accustomed to not having it easy.

Leverkusen qualified for this competition by finishing third in the Bundesliga last season – just one point behind second-placed Borussia Dortmund but a massive 26 points behind the ridiculously dominant Bayern Munich.

As always, Moyes’ team selection will be of interest here but one name that will definitely not be on the sheet is that of Adnan Januzaj who, due to some UEFA technicality, cannot be registered on the “B” list of players until after 7th October so it will be our third group game at the earliest that we might see Adnan get his chance in this competition.

Once again, I am hoping that Moyes will use this one to rotate the squad a bit. I have a hunch Rio could sit this one out giving Evans the chance to come in and it would not surprise me to see Kagawa finally get the nod from Moyes.

Or maybe that last bit is just a bit of wishful thinking on my part.

Perhaps more likely is a midfield of Nani, Carrick, Fellaini and Valencia with Rooney and RvP up front although were Moyes to swap Carrick for Kagawa, that could work too and Carrick can’t be expected to play in every game.

Whilst this is a home game and the Fergie Blueprint for Champions League Group Stage Success was always to win the home games and take what you can from the away games, it is just the first of six games. Even a defeat here would not be a complete disaster – we would still have time to make up the necessary points and, on that basis, I would like to see Moyes take a bit of a risk (if playing the likes of Kagawa can be termed a risk).

What has been apparent from the last few games though is that we’re not creating enough chances in open play and I can’t see that state of affairs improving considerably should Moyes go with Carrick and Fellaini in the middle.

All will be revealed at around 7:30pm tonight though.

In the meantime, I have to make some sort of prediction here.

I have a feeling that this one is going to end 2-1 to United. Leverkusen have the dangerous Stefan Kiessling (top scorer in the Bundesliga last season) so a goal for them would not surprise.

However, our own mini-goal drought from open play cannot go on forever and a Champions League night is as good a night as any to get back on track.

The Missing Post

Knowing that I was going to be out all today, I wrote today’s post last evening and scheduled it to be published for 9am this morning but, for some reason known only to the interweb, my blog software decided not to publish it so imagine my horror when I logged on to update things this evening to see that it hadn’t even been posted!

Anyway, I’ve reproduced it below and, having watched the game, my feelings on our attitude to the Europa League remain the same. I take nothing away from Bilbao who were excellent over both legs (and I do hope they now go on to win the tournament) but I’d like to believe that we were not giving 100% in this tie… the alternative is even worse!

Obviously, I won’t be including my bet in the stats (even though it won – typical!).

———————————- The Missing Post Appears Below ——————–

After our dismal performance against Bilbao last week (and, to be fair, Bilbao’s excellent performance) Fergie has been saying all the right things including, somewhat bizarrely, “I think we can win over there” (yes, I know what he means but based on last week’s evidence then I don’t exactly share his optimism) but I’m not convinced.

Behind the words, I don’t think Fergie really wants this competition. I have a suspicion that he is finding the Thursday/Sunday thing a bit of a nuisance and it has perhaps affected routines that have existed at OT for years.

As we have now hit top spot in the Premier League and now face a run of fixtures which, all other things being equal, we could very well take almost maximum points from, I think Fergie just wants to concentrate on that.

Put it another way. Let’s say that we beat City in the Europa League Final but City win the Premier League would any of us be happy with that? I think not. But if City win the Europa League and we win the Premier League then I think all United fans would go for that right now.

One thing is for sure; trying to go for both is going to be tough and I think both Fergie and Mancini know it and the Premier League is the bigger prize.

So, Fergie is likely to once again rest a few players this evening and put out a strongish side (as he did in the first leg) – he will send them out to win but should this be the end of our Europa League road then I doubt many tears will be shed on the flight home.

As for Bilbao, I have to hold my hands up and say that I completely underestimated them last week but, in my defence, I don’t think I was the only one guilty of that. Despite me thinking that they couldn’t possibly keep that level of intensity up for ninety minutes, they did and were as dangerous at the end as they were at the start.

On their home turf, they could be even better but they do have a healthy lead going into this second leg so it will be interesting to see how they approach it. They basically have to stop us from scoring two but if they can score one, we need to get three.

Yes, we’re capable but do we want it? I remain unconvinced and I suspect we might fall slightly short of what is required here this evening.

There could be goals again though. We might as well throw the kitchen sink at this one and I’m sure Bilbao will want to get a goal or two of their own to make our task more difficult.

The price isn’t up to much but I do think it’s a winning bet so I’m going for Over 2.5 goals @ 1.66 with Betfred.

Man Utd v Athletic Club (Europa League 2011-12)

When this season is over and the post-mortems are conducted, it will be our home form – particularly in Europe which will be under the most scrutiny and, should we fail to win any silverware then it will almost certainly be claimed to be the cause of … well, not quite death but certainly downfall.

European nights at Old Trafford have been amazing occasions for decades but most fans have left the Theatre of Dreams knowing that a restless night’s sleep lies ahead so far this season.

This needs to be stopped and it needs to be stopped tonight. Despite being the poor relation to the Champions League, there are some decent teams left in the Europa League and if we have any designs on lifting the trophy then our home form is going to be key.

However, I simply cannot shake the feeling that Fergie would go out of this tonight if it meant that we would lift the Premier League title again. City, meanwhile, could be tempted to go for both which will stretch their squad to the limit and could mean that they end up falling between two stools. That’s my theory, anyway.

A lot more will be known when we see the team that Fergie puts out tonight. He has admitted to making too many changes, especially in the defensive positions, in our last game against Ajax and that very nearly cost us dear and has promised a “strong squad” tonight.

A clean sheet would be a good place to start because we’ve generally been leaking too many goals in European games this season and not giving Bilbao an away goal to build on could be all important.

As for Bilbao, well, they’re doing well in La Liga and currently sit one point outside the Champions League places although their away form is nothing to write home about. Indeed, they came through the last round of this competition with exactly the kind of results that they might well be hoping for again in this round. They lost the away tie against Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 but beat them 1-0 at home to go through on the away goal rule.

I’m obviously hoping that we can keep the clean sheet but bag at least a couple of our own this evening and I’d like to believe that we can do that – we’ve done it to better teams than Bilbao over the years.

More than anything though, I just want to see the real Manchester United turn up tonight and send us home with a European performance to smile about.

My bets of late have been terrible and I need to pull my own socks up a bit if I’m to make a profit this season. Hopefully, the team will oblige tonight and give me a much needed winner.

The bet is 2 points Manchester United -1.5 AH @ 2.27 with BetVictor.

Sign up here!

Man Utd v Ajax (Europa League 2011-12)

We go into this match with a 2-0 lead following last week’s first leg in Amsterdam which should be enough to see us through but I do believe that we could and should have really put this one to bed laast week.

In any case, one more goal for us tonight will surely put the tie beyond Ajax but they will probably be somewhat encouraged by some of our more lacklustre Old Trafford performances – particularly against European opposition – this season and so until we get that goal, I’d expect Ajax to give this a real go tonight.

The first half of the first leg resembled the first round of a boxing match where both fighters are just trying to find their range and feel their way into the fight without over-committing themselves and leaving themselves vulnerable. In the second half, we upped our workrate and generally looked a notch above Ajax in all departments. If we had started the match in the same vein then I’m convinced we’d be taking more than a 2-0 lead into this one.

However, after the disappointment of the home ties in the Champions League, the players surely won’t make the same mistakes again and we’ll get the job done this evening.

The first leg saw a fair bit of squad rotation by Fergie as he brought several players back in who had been suffering various injuries and I do suspect that we will see more of the same tonight although rumours that Paul Pogba could be given a game here refuse to go away (I seem to say that before every game these days though) and with Fergie “confirming” that Rooney is set to miss out due to some kind of throat infection which has prevented him from training, there could even be a rare appearance for the ever-reliable Michael Owen.

None of this would surprise me. We’re now really coming to the nitty gritty end of the season and Fergie will be doing his spinning plates act as he tries to ensure that as many players as possible are sharp and match fit at any given moment and that means not leaving any out in the cold for extended periods of time.

I’d like to think we will simply blow Ajax away this evening but it probably isn’t necessary – we only have to stop them scoring and if we can bang in one or two ourselves then the tie will be put beyond any doubt but whilst the price is tempting, I don’t have the confidence to go for the UNDER bet.

I’m going to go for us beating Ajax by a couple of goals again because, for all their pretty passing, they really didn’t look up to much going forward.

The bet is 2 points Man Utd -1.5 AH @ 2.12 with BetVictor (the new name for Victor Chandler).

Sign up here!

Ajax v Man Utd (Europa League 2011-12)

Whilst an appearance in the Europa League might be something of a comedown for us Manchester United fans, a thought should be spared for Ajax who, in days gone by, were one of the best and most successful sides in the history of the game.

In the early seventies, they won the European Cup three years in a row and won it again in 1995 but lost to Juventus in the 1996 Final.

That team of the mid-nineties is the Ajax team which I remember the most as it was full of absolutely top-class players – Van Der Sar, Reiziger, Blind, Rijkaard, Frank and Ronald DeBoer, Seedorf, George, Davids, Litmanen, Overmars, Kanu, Kluivert. The Holland team of the time was basically Ajax in a different shirt.

The club is still recognised as one of the best for bringing through young talent but, probably due to the way the money goes in football these days, most of these players now end up at “bigger” clubs rather than staying with Ajax and this has been reflected in the club’s fortunes in recent years for whilst they still remain one of the big clubs in Holland (they actually won the Eredivisie last season), 1995 was the last time that they enjoyed any success outside of Holland.

So, this tie is something of a clash of the fallen giants. We were both knocked out of the Champions League in the Group Stages after winning our respective domestic leagues last season and whilst I am convinced that Fergie doesn’t view this with anywhere near the same kind of importance as he does the Premier League, going out of two European competitions at the earliest possible stage would obviously not be great and I’m sure that whoever Fergie puts out tonight will display the appropriate competitive spirit once they take to the field.

As for the game itself, I really have no idea. There are just so many unknowns around both our opponents, our own team selection, the attitudes of the two teams towards this competition (although I suspect this is bigger for Ajax than it is for us because they’re some way off the pace in their domestic league this season and seem unlikely to retain their title).

It’s really one to just watch and enjoy rather than get too heavily involved with on the betting front but I have a fancy for a few goals to be scored tonight. Ajax have shown themselves able to knock in a few this season but have also, on occasion, let in a few – much like ourselves really.

The bet is 2 points OVER 2.5 goals @ 1.80 with Bet365.

Body Clock Readjustment

The Champions League gets underway this evening with a couple of decent games to look forward to including Barcelona away to Leverkusen and then tomorrow Arsenal take on AC Milan in Italy.

The other four matches get played next week but there’s one name missing from the fixture list – that of Manchester United.

Yes, after years of uninterrupted Champions League football and the Tuesday/Wednesday night football we’re now relegated to Thursday night on Channel 5 and it feels quite strange… I’m not used to watching football on a Thursday night!

It should be interesting though. Whilst the players have been making all the right noises about how they view it as another competition they want to win, I’m not convinced that it is viewed with anything like the importance that the Premier League is and Fergie’s first team sheet should tell us all we need to know about just how highly he regards it.

There has been some talk of the likes of Paul Pogba getting some much-needed game time in the competition and I hope that this is what will happen – it would be a fantastic opportunity for the lad to get some high end European experience and bridge that gap between Reserves and First Team.

Tom Cleverley could also make his re-appearance this week and, again, it would be a great opportunity for him to get back into “proper” competitive football.

I also hope that Ben Amos is rewarded for his pretty faultless displays whenever called upon by being given the goalkeeping position for as long as we remain in this competition.

The Europa League has been referred to as the Carling Cup of European football and, whilst this might be an unkind description (there are some top clubs in the competition – we face one on Thursday) I have a feeling that we are going to see some Carling Cup-esque squad selections and I am hoping that this feeling is correct.

Bring it on!