Bet of the Day: Manchester United to beat Rochdale in Carabao Cup

14th September 2021

Yesterday’s annual financial statement from Manchester United offered good news for fans of healthy balance sheets, as the club reported a record turnover. However, supporters’ walls are not adorned by posters of accountants, and crowds don’t sing joyously about how their CEO is “by far the greatest financier the world has ever seen”. They are, inconveniently, more interested in what takes place on the field, and the Red Devils have not enjoyed a great deal of success out there on the green rectangle so far this season.

Off the back of a pretty dire 2-0 defeat at West Ham, United take their first steps in the Carabao Cup tonight, with what appears on the face of it to be a comfortable tie against League One side Rochdale. The Dale, currently 17th in the third tier, can take comfort in the fact that they face a short trip this evening, but come into the game with a background of four winless games, including a 6-0 tonking at the hands of Peterborough. All of the above, of course, sounds like exactly the kind of statistical roll-call that is usually trotted out after an over-confident “big” club has been knocked out of a competition by a minnow. Will that be the case this evening?

Bare-bones United attack could struggle tonight

For the optimists among the home fans tonight, the chance of handing out a right thumping is what cup football is all about. A side as well-resourced as this United team should be capable of scoring several goals against a side which, we note once again, lost 6-0 to Peterborough earlier in the month. However, United are restricted somewhat by circumstances. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are unavailable through injury. Alexis Sanchez is on loan at Inter Milan, and Romelu Lukaku has left Manchester permanently for the same destination.

Consequently, Mason Greenwood is expected to lead the line for the hosts this evening – but it would be a mistake to expect too much from him. For one thing, he’s 17 and has a bare minimum of first-team experience. For another, he’s recovering from a bout of tonsilitis that ruled him out against West Ham. United should certainly win this match, but don’t count on them running riot on the scoreboard. With the limitations placed upon them by injury and other factors, it would be reasonable to expect a total of fewer than 3.5 goals in the game (20/23 at Betfair) on a night when, realistically, any win will be acceptable.

Uncomfortable night in prospect for OGS?

Some aspects of Manchester United’s current malaise are out of the manager’s control. It is undeniably frustrating for a side to be without young strikers of the ability of Rashford and Martial. However, there has to be some debate over the wisdom of taking a side that clearly lacked attacking inspiration last season, spending close to £150million on improvements, and letting more than 90% of that investment be splashed on two defenders. United now look a more solid unit at the back, there’s no doubt of that; the problem is that it often feels like they could play all day and not create chances for their striker(s).

When a team is playing well in attack, things take on a momentum of their own. Players are in the right position to receive a pass, can play the ball on without even thinking, and the wins just accumulate; witness Liverpool’s 100% record in the Premier League. Equally, when an attack is not firing, that situation also becomes self-perpetuating, with forwards not making the right runs, midfielders over- or under-hitting passes, and the crowd becoming restless. As with the Europa League win over Astana last week, it’s all too easy to see the favourites here toiling for most of the game, even if they do come away with the win. Betfred are offering 16/5 in their HT/FT market on United winning, but only after going in all-square at the break; something that’s easy to imagine being the case.

Pogba’s return: hit or miss?

The story of Paul Pogba and Manchester United is an odd one. He arrived at the club initially in 2009 from Le Havre, tipped for big things, and ended up leaving for Juventus three years later after a total of seven first-team appearances for the club. After immense success with the Italian club, he returned to Manchester in 2016 for what was a world-record transfer fee, his performances in Serie A and with the French national team having marked him out as one of the most talented players around. He has played more over the course of his present stint, but for the last year has seemed perpetually on the brink of another move away. His detractors argue that he has underperformed in a red shirt, while others argue that first Jose Mourinho, and now Solskjaer, have failed to use Pogba properly, in the playmaker role where he thrived with Juve.

An ankle injury has ruled the French national captain out of United’s last three games, but his return to fitness means he’s in the frame to start tonight. The conditions, and the weakness of the opposition, make this the perfect opportunity to remind the club why they parted with so much cash to sign him. He’s also priced at 15/4 by JenningsBet to score the game’s first goal. In the expected absence of Rashford – and given the frankly dizzying number of penalties United seem to win – Pogba is an excellent shout to open the scoring. He’s prolific from the spot, a perpetual danger at free-kicks, and can time a run into the box like few other players to finish with his feet or head. If he plays as he can and is given the opportunity, it’s hard to see how the Dale stop him.

Bets of the Day

Pogba FGS (JenningsBet, 15/4); Fewer than 3.5 goals (Betfair, 20/23); Draw/Man U HT/FT (Betfred, 16/5)

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