With qualification for the second stage already secured – somehow – Manchester United come into this game knowing that topping the group is possible, but highly unlikely. They need to do better at the Mestalla, somehow, than Juventus do in Switzerland against Young Boys, if they are to avoid the tougher path through the knockout stages that comes with second place. For United, everything needs to go right tonight.
In their way stand Valencia, who reached and lost the first two Champions League finals of the 21st Century. Guaranteed to finish third in the group, the Spanish side have little to play for this evening, and currently sit in 15th place in La Liga. However, due to the incredibly balanced nature of this season’s Spanish domestic competition, two wins could catapult them into fifth place there. They’re unlikely to give Jose Mourinho’s side an easy time this evening.
Valencia vs Manchester United Prediction: Valencia 0-0 Manchester United
After fifteen games in La Liga, Valencia have scored twelve goals and conceded the same amount. United, for their part, have been more prolific in the Premier League, but are still some way off having the best attack. The meeting between these sides in Manchester was a tedious 0-0 draw, and neither side has improved a great deal since. On balance, then, this match very much has the feel of a chess game about it – in the sense that we don’t expect any goals and there’ll be a lot of scowling, and it will probably end in stalemate.
Our recommended tip: Valencia Clean Sheet
Doubling down on our expected result in this game, tonight is an opportunity for both goalkeepers to bank whatever bonuses are in their contracts for keeping a clean sheet. Valencia, who will start with Neto between the sticks, are available at 11/4 (3.75) with Coral, while United have stopper David de Gea, who has been shaky this season, and are at shorter odds of 11/5 (3.20). Given that the teams could very well “share no goals” this evening, the better bet is on Valencia not to concede. Not least because they’ve been hard to score against domestically this season.
These sides have had plenty of encounters in this competition over the years, with all but one of their competitive meetings ending in draws. The odd one out came in Valencia in 2010 when, after 85 minutes of toil and not much substance, Alex Ferguson threw on youngster Federico Macheda. The Italian, less than a minute after arriving on the pitch, sent in a pass which was hammered into the net by Javier Hernandez.
More recently, they met on Matchday 2 of this season’s competition, playing out a goalless draw more memorable for the six yellow cards handed out to the visitors than for any goalmouth action.
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Players to watch: Michy Batshuayi & Ashley Young
If this game is to treat us to a goal at any point, then the chances are it will come from a talented Belgian striker – there’s one on either side. Valencia’s version is the perpetually cheerful Batshuayi, a scorer of key late goals as a substitute for parent club Chelsea, and then several as a starter on loan for Dortmund last season. Since moving on loan again to Valencia he’s been less prolific – only two goals in all competitions this season – but considering the highly defensive nature of the team he’s in, it’s hard to be prolific.
Young has been at Manchester United under four different managers, and has evolved from an up-and-at-them winger into a left-back of international class. Aged 33, he’s as essential to the side now as he has ever been, pinging home the first goal in the weekend’s win over Fulham before providing the assist for Marcus Rashford to score late on. In a season where the team as a whole has been anything but reliable, Young has been a model of consistency and should start here.