It feels like the last thing people are talking about with Manchester United is a game of football, but they’ve got another huge one on Tuesday as they travel to Spain to face Villarreal in the Champions League. That means plenty to chew over in our Game of the Day feature.
Ole Gunner Solskjaer was finally put out of his misery after another humiliating defeat, this time at Watford, but it’s been a long time coming and United’s players were performing as if they knew the club legend would be out of a job sooner rather than later.
There’s plenty of talent in this squad, enough to challenge for the title, but for one reason or another Solskjaer could just not get the most out of it – it’s hard to disagree with Roy Keane who predicted this group of players would down tools to get the manager out as they did with Jose Mourinho.
While they’re still packing away Solskjaer’s office and drying his tears off the floor the team quickly have to head off to Spain for a crucial Champions League game with Michael Carrick in charge – what could possibly go wrong?
We continue our Game of the Day series with a look at the big game on Monday evening with some betting advice below, more on the teams, their stats and form and a specially-enhanced double from the Betfair traders.
What next in Man Utd soap opera?
It was a sad end for Solskjaer but he kept his dignity and the one thing you can’t fault him for is his passion for Man Utd, he’s obviously not got the experience required but he has also been let down by the board for letting it drag on so long and ultimately by his players.
His former United team-mates in the media haven’t really helped, as they’ve stuck by him making some laughable arguments why he should stay (we’re looking at you Gary Neville) and you suspect they’ll be kicking themselves when Antonio Conte gets Spurs firing as he likely will.
? Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 21, 2021
As the Glazers and Man Utd’s board are so reactionary and led by popular opinion and have only made the change when feeling backed into a corner – if Keane, Neville and the rest had come out against Solskjaer sooner the club could well have nabbed Conte. That could be a huge mistake.
If United’s results and performances were had to fathom with Solskjaer, heaven knows what they’ll be like with Carrick. If he’s still in shape, playing himself in central midfield wouldn’t be the worst thing he could do as interim manager. Or is he interim-interim manager? “Assistant TO the regional manager” I hear all you fans of The Office cry…
Somehow, Carrick takes charge of a team top of their Champions League group and a win either in Villarreal or at home to Young Boys in their last game will see them through. That’s a nice safety net to have but would you trust them to beat the Swiss minnows right now?
Poch favourite for Man Utd job
It’s being reported that PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino is keen on taking the job at Old Trafford – as the former Tottenham coach has long been linked with the Man Utd job and many feel he should have been installed as soon as he left Spurs.
The interim, interim boss Carrick is also well-fancied but surely even United’s hapless board won’t make that mistake again of going for someone so devoid of any top-flight experience.
From 18/1 on Saturday to 5/2.
With reports that Mauricio Pochettino is Man Utd’s first choice he’s been backed into favourite.
We’ve also seen money for Erik ten Hag who’s now 7/1 from 10/1. pic.twitter.com/kjUA1FVAF5
? Betfair (@Betfair) November 22, 2021
Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers plays some lovely stuff and has won the FA Cup while turning the Foxes into genuine top six contenders, but would a former Liverpool boss be welcome at Old Trafford?
Erik ten Hag has done wonders with Ajax but would also be a big risk while Zinedine Zidane is the kind of big name the fans think the deserve, but he may not be the hero they need right now…
Emery to pile more misery on Utd?
Unai Emery turned down the job of spending all that Saudi Arabian money at Newcastle to remain with Villarreal, so he better get the Yellow Submarines into the Champions League knockouts, which is a tough ask now with Man Utd and then Atalanta to play in their final two games.
They’ve only lost once at home this season with four wins and three draws, scoring 15 and conceding eight. They’ve scored in seven out of eight and kept four clean sheets – including the last two – and although there’s the prospect of goals given the circumstances Emery is usually pretty cagey in big matches.
They must be sick of the sight of each other by now as this is their sixth meeting in the Champions League, while they also played out that Europa League final back in May. That dramatic penalty shootout win is the Spanish side’s only victory against United as they’re winless in those previous five Champions League games (D1 L4).
Villarreal have also never beaten an English club in the Champions League in 11 games (D6 L5) and Emery as a manager has just one win in eight against the Red Devils – he’ll likely have to try for a second without star forward Gerard Moreno as well, who is set to miss out through injury.
Stats, trends & best bets
Five draws (in 90 minutes) in six games between the two will lead a few towards backing the stalemate here at 3.412/5 but absolutely anything is possible in this game, as has been proven by United’s eventful campaign so far.
Their Champions League groups sums up their life under Ole, as they’ve been humiliated by minnows Young Boys and outplayed by both Atalanta and Villarreal yet had Cristiano Ronaldo bail them out with some late heroics.
Ronaldo is 2.01/1 to score here, as he has done in all four Champions League games so far, and there’s always something on it – he scored first at Young Boys then scored the last goal in the other three games, twice in stoppage time, to grab two wins and a draw for United when they hardly deserved anything.
Ronaldo is 4.57/2 to score the last goal and probably be the hero again, although with his side conceding at least twice in the last four Champions League away games then backing Villarreal to score two or more at 2.3811/8 is also appealing.
For more value on Ronaldo then the OddsBoost of 13.012/1 on him scoring a header is worth a speculative small play as you suspect United might be in need of slinging it into the box at some stage, or back him for two or more shots on target from outside the box at 5.59/2. It’s a big game, he knows it, his ego will demand he shines so he’ll be shooting on sight.
If Moreno is out then all eyes will be on Arnaut Danjuma as the only Villarreal player to score twice in the Champions League this season and dominating the stats for his team in terms of shots (13), shots on target (8) and touches in the opposition box (22). He’s also got the joint-most assists including one at Old Trafford.
Danjuma is also an injury worry after missing the weekend draw with Celta Vigo but he should be fit to start and he’s a man to be on the right side of as he’s had 32 shots with 13 on target and averages four shots a game and over one-and-a-half on target per 90 minutes. He’s had eight games with multiple shots on target and two here at 3.211/5 against this opposition should be a doddle.
As they’re quite clearly the star players for each side then it makes sense for that pair to be our special Betfair Game of the Day double boost, with the traders kindly enhancing the odds of Ronaldo and Danjuma to score from 6/1 to 8/1.
Watch out for young winger Yeremi Pino who will be full of confidence after recently appearing for Spain and signing a new contract, while Boulaye Dia will be dangerous if he starts up front but Paco Alcacer could be wheeled out again if fit after having his best game of the season when scoring at Old Trafford in the return game.
This should be one of the more interesting watches of the season with so many questions to answer – anything is possible!
Read Dave Tindall’s preview and tips for Villarreal v Man Utd