Will Manchester United advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League?
After four group stage matches, the task was fairly straightforward for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United.
They needed to beat PSV Eindhoven at home to secure a place in the last 16 of the Champions League. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, they were extremely poor against the Dutch side and laboured to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. The result meant that United’s destiny remains in their own hands but they must better PSV’s result in the final game week in order to advance to the next round of Europe’s elite club competition.
United must now travel to Wolfsburg aiming to get a positive result against a side who have lost just three times in their last 41 home fixtures in all competitions. Furthermore, Dieter Hecking’s men are unbeaten in their last 29 home Bundesliga matches, which is an incredible yet imposing statistic. United will find it incredibly tough to go to Germany and win, however, that might be what is required as PSV host Group B whipping boys CSKA Moscow, who have already been eliminated from the competition.
If anyone can do it, United can. Since Van Gaal took over at Old Trafford, the Red Devils have found a way to step up in the big matches. In fact, they have only lost two – once to Manchester City and once to Chelsea – of their fixtures against England’s “elite” clubs since the Dutchman arrived at the club. They have looked much more organised defensively in recent times. Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian have both been superb this campaign while the likes of Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo have also improved. If their defence performs well, United stand a great chance of success in Wolfsburg.
After their recent run of form, United fans may be a little worried about their chances in Germany. The German outfit know that a victory will secure top spot in the group and will therefore mean that they avoid the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the next round of the competition. As we know, Wolfsburg are very strong at home and look odds of 6/4 in bet365’s UEFA competitions betting markets reflect their potential. United will certainly have their work cut out against a very organised outfit, especially after the Red Devils laboured to a 2-1 victory over the German side at Old Trafford in September.
However, they are failing to inspire confidence largely due to their weakness in attack. Offensively, United don’t create clear-cut opportunities on a regular basis and Van Gaal seems content with just a few chances in every match. For some reason, the Dutchman seems to assume that United’s strikers will score with every opportunity and until he realises that his players are not robots, the 13-time Premier League champions will struggle to win matches and will not play free-flowing, attacking football.
Possession is fine but Van Gaal’s stubborn nature will cost United in the long term. Until they play attractive football, fans and supporters will get on the Dutchman’s back. At the best of times, Van Gaal plays Anthony Martial up front over Wayne Rooney but he continues to chop and change the rest of the starting line-up. His decision making may also cost United, particularly in a one-off game like the Wolfsburg clash. Benching star midfielder Ander Herrera for missing a one-on-one against Crystal Palace wasn’t the correct decision, it was more of an effort the Dutchman to place the blame on the Spaniard’s shoulders. In fact, there are now rumours that Herrera wants showdown talks with Van Gaal, which will annoy fans even more.
Against Wolfsburg, both United and Van Gaal will have to be at their very best to pick up the victory that will guarantee their place in the next round of the competition. If the Red Devils play at their very best, they are more than capable of winning. However, if they aren’t at the races or their manager simply lets them down, they will crash out of the competition. It’s sure to be a close encounter but, with a bit of luck, United will get the job done and secure their place in the last 16.