Manchester United v Valencia
Under-fire Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho desperately needs a positive result from Tuesday night’s Champions League tussle with Valencia.
Having suffered three defeats in a week – including an embarrassing home EFL Cup exit to Derby – the knives are out for the Portuguese at Old Trafford.
The Red Devils have now made their worst start to a league season in 29 years and the strained relationship Mourinho has with his players appears on the brink. Jamie Carragher believes the United boss has already lost the dressing room and there’s a feeling the situation could be coming to a head.
Mourinho himself looks out of ideas. Against West Ham last weekend, he opted to field one of his strangest starting XIs, pitting Scott McTominay, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof in a back-three, which unsurprisingly didn’t work. However, United’s pedestrian attitude in possession was just as alarming.
Despite Romelu Lukaku hitting a post and Marouane Fellaini forcing a fine save, United’s attacking inspiration was isolated. The Red Devils struggled on the ball, while their unconvincing backline has now recorded a solitary shutout in seven.
United’s odds have drifted like a barge for this encounter and I’d still be comfortable enough opposing the hosts. The Red Devils were chalked up as 1.71 shots when hosting Sevilla at Old Trafford last season and the La Liga club came away with a 2-1 triumph.
This Valencia outfit are more rounded, better balanced and boast an astute head coach in the dugout.
Los Che may have only secured their first league win of the campaign on Saturday – away at Real Sociedad with goalkeeper Neto saving a penalty – but performances have been better than their W1-D5-L1 results suggest.
Crucially, Geoffrey Kondogbia returned from injury and Ezequiel Garay is also back in contention. Marcelinho’s men travel with a near fully fit squad and plenty of offensive options to hurt United on the break; Goncalo Guedes, Kevin Gameiro, Denis Cherychev, Rodrigo and Michy Batshuayi are all vying for starts.
Valencia will play a compact and disciplined 4-4-2 aiming to frustrate their hosts initially before looking for counter-attacking opportunities.
They possess the tools, and nous, to make this an uncomfortable evening but also know defeat could be curtains for their only Champions League aspirations after defeat to Juventus in Spain last time out.
Nevertheless, I’m happy to support Los Che with a +1 start on the Asian Handicap line.
Last season, Valencia were only beaten by one-goal margins at Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, while holding Real in the Bernebeau. Indeed, they’ve lost just twice in La Liga by two or more goals under Marcelinho.
Meanwhile, United have won just twice when taking on teams in the Premier League’s top-seven under Mourinho and I’d be surprised if they’re capable of turning on the style and swatting Valencia aside on Tuesday.
Tottenham v Barcelona
Barcelona are another major continental force feeling the heat having dropped seven points in their past three La Liga outings. The Catalans were dreadful in defeat against Leganes last midweek and only managed to pick up a point when welcoming Athletic Bilbao to the Camp Nou on Saturday night.
Ernesto Valverde’s decision to rest Lionel Messi and Sergi Busquets didn’t help the situation with the Argentinean master coming off the bench to inspire a much-improved second-half performance. The defending champions twice hit the woodwork and did enough to seal victory but for some poor finishing.
The Barcelona boss has been criticised for not yet knowing his best XI, or system after a number of impressive summer signings arrived.
And while the Blaugrana will head to Wembley with an almost fully fit squad, they will be missing Samuel Umtiti at centre-half, putting more pressure on out-of-form Gerard Pique.
Such vulnerabilities should encourage Spurs.
And the hosts look well worth backing with a +0.50 start, even more so when you take a look at Barca’s recent record on the road in the Champions League.
Since 2015/16, Barcelona have played 15 away Champions League games and won just five – they were at BATE Borisov, Arsenal, Celtic, Borussia Monchengladbach and Sporting Lisbon. The Catalans have scored more than once in only four of those fixtures and failed to net on six occasions.
Tottenham warmed up for the contest with a relatively comfortable win away at Huddersfield. Harry Kane scored twice to dampen his own critics and Mauricio Pochettino was able to bring off Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele at the interval to protect the pair ahead of Wednesday night’s match-up.
Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is due back and Christian Eriksen should also be fit enough to play a part, so Spurs won’t be far off full-strength. And with attacking trio Kane, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min all looking sharp in the final-third, the home side should be well capable of causing Barca defensive problems.
Spurs were as big as 3.58 to win this match on Sunday night. In comparison, last season the capital club were 2.30 to beat Juventus here, 3.25 against Real Madrid and 2.40 when hosting Dortmund – of course, they beat Madrid and Dortmund and so are unlikely to be suffering any sort of inferiority complex.
- Manchester United v Valencia – Valencia +1 Asian Handicap
- Tottenham v Barcelona – Tottenham +0.50 Asian Handicap