It was with a curious half smile that Jose Mourinho offered Manchester United’s surrender in the race for a place in the top four of the Premier League, running up the white flag after the Red Devils’ indifferent performance against Arsenal on Sunday that resulted in a 2-0 loss.
Manchester United v Celta Vigo | 11 May 20:05
United are now 14/1 to qualify for the Champions League by the most orthodox route, the Gunners have been cut to 7/2.
For those that have followed the Portuguese’s comments over the course of the last month or so, the shrug of the shoulders from the former Real Madrid coach at a first league loss for his team in 25 matches will have come as less of a surprise.
Mourinho has made it clear that he values success in the Europa League over a top four finish, and punters have picked up on that, making a United triumph in Stockholm on May 24th the worst possible outcome for bookmakers.
The layers’ liabilities have grown throughout the season, with the ante-post favourites tumbling from a mid-August price of 7/1, to odds of 4/1 ahead of the knockout stages and 9/10 prior to their professional 1-0 success in the first leg of their last four clash away to Celta Vigo.
Punters, not to mention Manchester United supporters, have been waiting all season long for Jose Mourinho’s side to let lose, expecting the club that has a tradition of attacking football to start to sweep aside teams just for the thrill of it.
And while United have plenty of talent in their ranks, I don’t expect we’ll see anything but efficiency from the home club when they take on Celta Vigo in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final.
There is just too much at stake for the Portuguese to veer from anything other than the tried and tested.
The hosts are 1/9 to qualify for the final, and it’s worth pointing out that United have never lost a two legged UEFA club competition tie after winning the first game away from home. Eduardo Berizzo’s team, meanwhile, are 11/2 to make a first ever European final.
Celta, who are quoted at 14/1 to win the Europa League, did claim away successes at Shakhtar Donetsk and Krasnodar in the knockout stages of the Europa League this term, while they also managed a victory at Panathinaikos in the group stages, but they were very flat at the Balaidos last week, managing just two shots on target.
The 3-0 loss at Malaga on Saturday was a fifth straight defeat for the Galician club – they haven’t lost six in a row for over 13 years, and, while players were rested, confidence has drained from the team.
It all points to a slim United victory on Thursday night, so, play the hosts to win to nil, at 31/20, with under 2.5 goals, which has proved profitable in all of United’s last seven continental fixtures, also advised at 24/25.
Lyon v Ajax | 11 May 20:05
Ajax have been brilliant to watch in this season’s Europa League and, given their history in European football, there is almost always plenty of goodwill surrounding the Amsterdam team.
I can’t help feeling, however, that Peter Bosz’s head has been turned just a little too much by the prospect of his team winning the Eredivisie this campaign, after an unexpected Feyenoord loss last weekend suddenly opened up the title race in the Netherlands.
“One thing is for sure is that we want to be champions” said Bosz, after the Rotterdam side were defeated 3-0 by Excelsior last time out, when victory would have seen Feyenoord win the championship.
Before going onto to reason that Heracles, who travel to the De Kuip on the final day of the season, will do their utmost to win, as they need the points to grab a European play-off place.
It’s a distraction that Ajax, who are 3/1 to win the title (with Feyenoord still expected to get the job done at 1/5), didn’t bank on this time last week and, while they played with freedom at home to Lyon, it might be a different story in France.
OL are 4/6 to win at Stade Gerland, with Ajax 37/10 and the draw 16/5. Bruno Genesio’s side – 14/1 shots to win the Europa League – are well worth backing to register a second leg success, but I don’t think they’ll overturn the 4-1 deficit they need to qualify.
Yes, they defeated AZ Alkmaar 7-1 at home in this season’s competition and have come back from losing an away leg 4-1 in Europe previously to progress (when overcoming Club Brugge in the 2001/2002 UEFA Cup), but Lyon’s inability to keep a clean sheet – none in their last seven fixtures – is a real concern given the visitors attacking quality.
Ajax have scored in 50 of their 53 matches this term and have in Kasper Dolberg, who can boast 21 goals in all competitions, a potential superstar.
This column has championed United, who now trade at 5/9 with Grosvenor Sport, from the turn of the year, but also advised a saver on Ajax, at 6/1, ahead of last week’s opening 90 minutes of the semi-finals.
The Amsterdam club were sensational when beating Lyon 4-1 and now are listed as 9/4 second favourites.