Weblog: The football punter

Old Trafford clash set to be high on tension

Champions League
BT Sport 2, 8pm Tuesday

Embattled manager Jose Mourinho desperately needs a victory to buy himself some breathing space and his precarious position could have a major effect on Manchester United's Champions League encounter with Valencia, which looks likely to generate plenty of tension and few goals.

Mourinho is often criticised for failing to deliver the free-flowing football regularly served up to Manchester City and Liverpool supporters.

But for now he would gladly settle for an ugly 1-0 win to draw a line under Saturday's 3-1 loss at West Ham.

Confidence in Mourinho's long-term prospects is evaporating and the Portuguese no bigger than evens to be the next Premier League manager to depart.

The October international break is a dangerous time for under-pressure managers and Mourinho needs to get there without any more mishaps.

Anything other than a pair of home victories over Valencia and Newcastle would leave Mourinho in a more vulnerable state and the first of those challenges looks the trickiest.

Valencia have had a sketchy start to the season and were winless in seven games until Kevin Gameiro's goal handed them a 1-0 victory at Real Sociedad on Saturday.

That result lifted them from 16th to 11th in La Liga and they are under early pressure in the Champions League after losing 2-0 at home to Juventus on matchday one.

The loss to Juve was particularly disappointing because Valencia were presented with a massive opportunity by Cristiano Ronaldo's 29th-minute red card.

Juventus had to play over an hour without their talisman but eased to victory thanks to a pair of Miralem Pjanic penalties either side of half-time.

It was a harsh lesson for Valencia, who won the shot count 28 to nine, but perhaps understandable given their lack of recent Champions League experience.

That defeat followed three successive losses at the end of Valencia's 2015-16 Champions League group-stage campaign and the main aim in Manchester will be to stop the rot.

They should be stronger than against Juve with key midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia fully recovered from injury but their lack of firepower is a concern.

Marcelino's side are among the lowest scorers in La Liga with just five from seven games and need more from strikers Michy Batshuayi, Rodrigo and Gameiro, who have mustered just one goal each.

United carry more of a threat but backing them at odds-on would require a huge leap of faith given the lack of confidence and strange decisions coming from the dugout.

Mourinho's switch to a three-man defence at West Ham was a spectacular failure but a change to a more conventional 4-3-3 looks highly likely and would give United a better chance of getting back on track.

However, it is unlikely to be a pretty spectacle and the best way to profit is to take odds-against about under 2.5 goals.


Under 2.5 goals

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Match in Focus


Newport Co v Tranmere

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Newport are unbeaten in 12 matches.
Expert verdict
Michael Flynn’s Newport headed into the playoffs as the fourth tier’s form side, securing seventh spot by finishing the season ten games unbeaten. Tranmere will know all too well about County’s disciplined defensive, having failed to score in both league meetings with them and, even with James Norwood leading the line, they look vulnerable.