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Weblog: The football punter

Red Devils look a super bet to see off Real

Uefa Super Cup
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm 

There’s always a danger of reading too much into pre-season form, but contrasting fortunes over the last few weeks are definitely one good reason for thinking Manchester United are a decent bet to beat Real Madrid to win the Uefa Super Cup.

Spanish sides have won seven of the last eight Super Cups - with Real triumphant in two of the last three - and no one doubts the pedigree of a team who were crowned European champions a little over two months ago.

But in terms of fitness, form and even intent, they look off the pace just now.

Zinedine Zidane insists he will wake his team from their summer lethargy in time for the showdown at the Philip II Arena in the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

But with Cristiano Ronaldo undercooked after time off and not guaranteed a start, Gareth Bale nursing an ankle injury and a series of insipid pre-season efforts from Madrid, the Premier League side are probably overpriced.

Having won three pieces of silverware under Jose Mourinho over the last 12 months they have got themselves into an impressive winning habit, and the United boss would dearly love to put one over on his former club in a fixture that will mean plenty to him.

An impressive summer has seen United win six of seven, a sequence which included a 1-1 draw against Real under a searing Californian sun. That was decided by penalties and it’s quite possible something similar could unfold in Skopje, where once again temperatures will be soaring.

A low scorer and extra-time are quite possible, so United to lift the trophy might be a preferable approach to anyone who fancies the Red Devils. Three of the last four Super Cups have gone to extra-time.

United play West Ham on Sunday but Mourinho will be looking to integrate his marquee signings, with Victor Lindelof set to cement the back three, Nemanja Matic anchoring midfield and Romelu Lukaku leading the line.

There’s a really nice balance to the side if Mourinho goes with three at the back. Antonio Valencia, for example, is a natural wing-back while Paul Pogba and Henrik Mkhitaryan got better and better after sticky starts in 2016-17 and are braced to have huge seasons now they’re established in Mourinho’s plans.

United’s confidence is in contrast to Real’s. The Spanish side's 4-1 drubbing by Manchester City in the International Champions Cup has been the low point, though the lack of energy or interest as they subsided to a 2-1 defeat against an MLS select team on Thursday was alarming.

Ronaldo has not been around and has to be rusty while Bale is injured, and Real look a couple of weeks behind United in terms of readiness for the season.

Can Zidane rally his league and European champions for this? He should be able to, but for once mighty Madrid look to be worth opposing.

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Man United to lift the trophy

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Match in Focus

18:00 Th 19Oct BT2

Crvena Zvezda v Arsenal

Home Win Draw Away Win
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  • Arsenal’s two group games have featured ten goals
Expert verdict
Rotating their squad hasn’t stopped Arsenal winning their two opening Europa League outings and backing the Gunners to come out on top in an open games looks sensible. Arsene Wenger's reserves have had no problem finding the net in this competition, scoring seven goals in those matches, but have looked far from secure at the back.