Ahead of Manchester United’s most recent set of back-to-back draws, Jose Mourinho suggested that the Europa League, not finishing in the top four of the Premier League, would be his side’s priority, stating that “this club wants trophies”. That could be a barbed comment aimed at old foe Arsene Wenger, given Arsenal’s propensity to perhaps give greater importance to qualifying for the Champions League at the expense of being successful in cup competitions.
United Worthy Favourites But Ajax Ready To Show Strength
One thing that the former Real Madrid coach is certainly wrong about was his claim that United had a “25 per cent chance to win” the Europa League after his team were drawn against Celta Vigo at the last four stage. In betting terms that’s a 3/1 shot, but the whole of the football world make the Red Devils favourites to lift the trophy in Stockholm later this month. Grosvenor Sports are giving odds of 9/10 for United to claim the only major piece of silverware they are yet to win.
It’s these types of disingenuous comments that rankle amongst supporters of other clubs, but just seem laughable to shrewd punters, who would never let club allegiances colour monetary investments. The bottom line is whether United, at a shade odds-on, are value in a four-runner race that also sees Lyon (11/4), Ajax (6/1) and Celta Vigo (15/2) line-up in the semi-final starting stalls.
Mourinho’s more plausible recent claim, about his team’s 1-1 draw at home to Swansea, was that the United squad was fatigued. Racking up 57 games already this term has certainly taken its toll, with injuries to key performers hampering Mourinho’s ability to rest and rotate players. The fact remains, though, that they’ve lost only two of their last 38 fixtures in all competitions.
United are worthy favourites, but for those not wanting to back them at odds-on, it could be worth siding with Ajax in the outright market. The Dutch side’s Eredivisie hopes were almost certainly ended with a 1-0 loss to PSV a fortnight ago. However, Peter Bosz’s young and vibrant team, which have been compared to the 2002/2003 side that made the Champions League last eight, have shown real character this term, not least when beating Schalke on aggregate in extra -time after going a man down in the previous round of this competition.
If asked, Mourinho might also rate Ajax’s chances as ‘25 percent’, which, in this case, I’d make him about right. So, take advantage of the current quote which is double what it perhaps should be.
Lyon To Suffer Bad Trip In Amsterdam
Ajax v Lyon | 3 May 17:45
Speaking of the Dutch giants’ team from 14 years ago, the first time that Ajax met Lyon in European competition was that season, in the Champions League group stages. A side that included the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong and Andy Van Der Meyde amongst others, defeated the Ligue Un club home and away. The current crop are more than capable of repeating that feat. They should certainly be backed to win the first leg at home on Wednesday at a generous 33/25.
Peter Bosz’s team defeat in Eindhoven in their last outing means they are 14/1 to win their domestic division (Feyenoord, four points clear with two games to play, are 1/100), so their efforts can be solely focussed on the Europa League.
Ajax are without the suspended duo of Joel Veltman and Nick Viergever, but the rest of the squad will be fresh as the Amsterdam club didn’t play at the weekend (the Dutch Cup final was given centre stage). Ajax are unbeaten in their last 12 European home games (winning seven) and haven’t suffered a reverse in front of their own fans in any competition since August.
Alexandre Lacazette, 4/1 favourite to grab the first goal (and 6/5 to score at any time), has missed Lyon’s last two matches with a thigh injury and is unlikely to play in the Dutch capital which is a severe blow. The French international scored his 31st goal of the season in the quarter-final second leg at Besiktas and OL’s win percentage has dropped in each of the last three seasons when he hasn’t played.
One side bet that looks too good to miss is Hakim Ziyech to provide an assist for an Ajax goal (7/5). The Moroccan midfielder can boast 12 in 28 Eredivisie matches this season.
Galicians To Miss Out On Glory
Celta Vigo v Manchester United | 4 May 20:05
The last time that Jose Mourinho took a team to the Balaídos was back in March 2013, when his Real Madrid side claimed a 2-1 victory courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo double. Three months earlier, however, he witnessed Los Blancos suffer defeat by the same scoreline. The Portuguese manager knows, therefore, just how difficult a trip to Vigo can be. It should come as no surprise that the layers have offered Manchester United at a seemingly big 5/3 to win the first leg in Spain.
Eduardo Berizzo’s team are 7/4, with the draw 43/20, and given he had the luxury of making eight changes for what was a third straight home defeat in La Liga at the weekend, I would much rather back the home side than the visitors. In 22 attempts, United have won just twice away to Spanish opponents, while a lengthy injury list includes four centre-halves and the irrepressible Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Still, United have found a way to overcome key absentees throughout the season and have played some of their better football in the Europa League this term, winning six of their last eight continental fixtures and drawing the other two. Away from home they seem to have the happy knack of avoiding defeat and yet another draw could well be the best bet. The obvious correct score prediction of 1-1 is at 23/4 (for what would be a 12th time this campaign). It’s also worth pointing out that Celta’s confidence has suffered somewhat with three successive league losses since qualifying for the semi-finals – a run that has seen them slip into the bottom half of the table.
Goalscorer punters should look to Celta Vigo’s 17-goal top scorer Iago Aspas, at 24/5 (first) and 9/5 (anytime), or United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, at 15/2 and 18/5. The Armenian has scored five goals in the competition this season and all five have been the first of the game.