Manchester United v Wolfsburg
Wednesday September 30, 19:45
Live on BT Sport Europe
Manchester United are still looking for their first points of the Champions League season, and our Bundesliga columnist Kevin Hatchard believes they can beat a Wolfsburg side playing well below par…
For all the criticism that has come chief executive Ed Woodward’s way regarding transfer policy, and for all the carping about Louis Van Gaal’s sometimes cloying style of play, Manchester United are in pretty good shape. Saturday’s 3-0 home win against Sunderland put them top of the Premier League for the first time in over two years, and Van Gaal says he is proud of that, and that his team is far better balanced than it was last season.
It’s hard to disagree with that assessment. United have only lost one of their first seven Premier League matches, no team in the English top flight has conceded fewer goals, and the Red Devils have failed to hit the net in just one of their 11 games in all competitions.
Van Gaal’s predecessor David Moyes was unable to maintain the fear factor that visiting teams used to feel when visiting Old Trafford, but the irascible Dutchman has managed to successfully renovate the Theatre of Dreams. Under LVG, United have won 20 of their 27 home games in all competitions, including five out of six this season.
While United are top of the tree domestically, their Champions League campaign got off to an awful start. A 2-1 defeat at PSV Eindhoven was made worse by an horrific injury to left-back Luke Shaw, and now Van Gaal knows there is little margin for error.
It’s been a curious start to the campaign for Wolfsburg, not least because of the uncertainty surrounding the club’s main sponsor Volkswagen (I won’t bore you with details of the emissions scandal here).
Although the Wolves have only suffered one defeat in the Bundesliga this season, it was a 5-1 pummelling by Bayern Munich, which featured the extraordinary exploits of Robert Lewandowski. The Pole smashed a clutch of records as he whacked in five goals in the space of nine minutes, and that defensive collapse appears to have done more damage than I first suspected.
I thought Wolfsburg would bounce back at the weekend against struggling Hannover, but they were wasteful in front of goal as they were held to a 1-1 draw. With attacking fulcrum Kevin De Bruyne now scoring and making goals for Manchester City instead, Wolfsburg are struggling to find a way to accommodate the offensive weapons they still have. In theory, a front four of Bas Dost, Max Kruse, Andre Schurrle and Julian Draxler should be too hot to handle for many opponents, but at the moment they resemble an awkward pop group that Simon Cowell threw together at X Factor’s
Coach Dieter Hecking says his team’s attacking play is too laborious and complicated, and he has turned up the heat on former Chelsea forward Schurrle, admitting he expects far more than the German international has hitherto produced. At least Dost is performing well, with six goals in all competitions, but only one of those has come away from the Volkswagen Arena.
Aside from Saturday’s derby disappointment, Wolfsburg are still picking up results at home, but on the road it’s a different story. Hecking’s men haven’t won away from home in the Bundesliga this term, and their 4-1 win at Stuttgart Kickers in the DFB Cup has been their only success outside Lower Saxony.
Wolfsburg made a winning start to their first Champions League campaign since 2009, as they edged out CSKA Moscow, but I think they will struggle at Old Trafford. Centre-backs Naldo and Dante have made an uncertain start to their fledgling partnership, and the attack is spluttering on the road without De Bruyne and the wily Ivan Perisic, who is now at Inter.
United are playing with confidence, especially at home, and the pace of players like Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial could cause those Brazilian behemoths in Wolfsburg’s rearguard some huge problems.
I think 1.82 is a fair price for the home win, and it’s one I’d recommend.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
United have been rattling in the goals of late, and they have scored at least three goals on six separate occasions this season. At Old Trafford, they have only drawn a blank against Newcastle, and they have put three goals past Club Brugge, Liverpool, Ipswich and Sunderland.
That suggests Over 2.5 Goals would be a good bet at 1.92, but I’m put off by the fact Wolfsburg have kept four clean sheets in their last six games. I think United will break their German visitors down and win the game, but it may take a while.
The Wolfsburg defence can look vulnerable against pace and clever movement, and I think if Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial are selected, they’ll have chances to score.
Given that Depay scored the opening goal against Sunderland on Saturday and against PSV, and that he might sneak in a free-kick or two, I think he looks a pretty hefty price at 7.5 on the Sportsbook, with Martial also attractive at 5.50.
On the Wolfsburg side of things, the in-form Dost is the obvious selection at 7.00, but I’d actually nudge you towards Max Kruse at 9.5. He is an excellent number 10, and he takes up intelligent positions in and around the box. If Wolfsburg manage to engineer a few counter-attacks, Kruse will be heavily involved.
Betfair are offering double odds on first scorer bets
Back Manchester United to win at 1.82
Back Memphis Depay to be First Goalscorer at 13/2
Manchester United v Wolfsburg