The Champions League returns for its second round of fixtures, and both the red and blue half of Manchester will be hopeful of victory to kickstart their respective campaigns.
This will be the Old Trafford crowd’s first taste of European football since the 2013/14 season, and they will be licking their lips in anticipation at the thought of taking on a Wolfsburg side shorn of the talents of their playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who has of course since left for United’s Manchester rivals.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men also take on German foe in the shape of Borussia Monchengladbach, a side who lost all of their first five Bundesliga games this season. They too will fancy a confidence-boosting European victory.
Manchester United (4/5) vs Wolfsburg (4/1)
Despite a minor blip towards the end of August when they lost to Swansea and drew with Newcastle, Manchester United have been in imperious form so far this season; Louis Van Gaal finally seems to have gotten the balance between defence and attack just right.
The signing of Anthony Martial has proven to be a masterstroke so far, whilst Memphis Depay looks a star in the making. The old warhorse Bastian Schweinsteiger also adds bags of big tournament experience to a relatively young squad.
The link-up play of Memphis, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney in the final third should prove too much for Wolfsburg, who have started their Bundesliga campaign in inconsistent fashion.
The loss of De Bruyne has clearly affected the German side, who drew with Hannover 1-1 in their last outing on Saturday after being thumped by a Robert Lewandowski inspired Bayern Munich 1-5 just four days before.
Young pair Maxi Arnold, just 21, and the 22-year-old Julian Draxler, who joined the club in a £26 million deal from Schalke in the summer, have been thrust into the playmaker role in De Bruyne’s absence, and while both clearly have enormous talent they are perhaps ones for the future rather than the here and now. If United can cut off the supply lines to lanky frontman Bas Dost, they should have ample opportunity to win this match.
Despite losing their first Group B encounter in Holland, a 1-2 reverse at PSV, there were mitigating circumstances for the Red Devils. They had to make do without the injured Wayne Rooney, and then had to witness Luke Shaw suffer a double leg break during the game. Even so, they dominated possession – 67% to PSV’s 33% – and fired in 17 shots at goal. It was a match they could have won with ease.
And so at this price – they are available from 4/5 with most major bookmakers – Manchester United are hard to ignore. Make sure they form part of your midweek betting.
Borussia M’gladbach (10/3) vs Manchester City (10/11)
There’s an interesting symmetry in this second Anglo/German encounter of Wednesday evening: Manchester City have lost their last two domestic matches after winning their first five on the bounce, whilst M’gladbach have triumphed in their last two after losing their first five. However, that is where the similarities end.
City’s pair of defeats – a 1-4 loss to Spurs following a 1-2 home defeat against West Ham – were surprising given the dominance they had show up until this point. Winning their first five matches without conceding a goal gave Pellegrini’s side an air of invincibility, and the fact that those two losses coincided with an ankle injury to captain Vincent Kompany won’t be lost on anybody. The Belgian is set to return to the side against M’gladbach however.
Their appetite to win this game will have been whetted further after losing their Group D opener to last year’s Champions League finalists Juventus. Despite that setback there were plenty of positives: they dominated possession (59% to 41%) against one of the world’s most technical teams, and would have snatched a point but for the heroics of Gianluigi Buffon in the Juve goal.
This is Borussia M’gladbach’s first appearance in the Champions League since the late 1970s, when the competition was called the European Cup. This lack of experience should play into City’s hands, as should the German side’s defensive generosity – they have conceded 18 goals in just 8 games so far this season.
Lacking any genuine outstanding players, M’gladbach will simply make themselves hard to play against, but with City itching to get back to winning ways it is hard not to see their superior class from eventually telling. Many punters are loathe to bet against German teams at home in European competitions, but in this instance it is perfectly justified – especially at this price.
Incidentally, the ‘Manchester Double’ pays out at a combined 2.43/1: well worth getting involved with.