Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Midweek Preview: 21st November 2006

Manchester United vs Glasgow Celtic (Champions League Group Stage)

"I will take a gamble and make one or two changes. I have the Chelsea match to think about..." - Sir Alex Ferguson

Two huge British clubs. Both with fiery Scottish managers. Both with pride, history, and tradition. Both the dominant force in their respective leagues for years. Both with passionate and vocal supporters. Throw this all into the mix and you get the upcoming Champions League clash between Manchester United and Glasgow Celtic. Truly mouthwatering.

As our favourite manager takes his squad north across the border for the clash between the two British titans, I am here in Singapore hoping he does keep to his word and make only one or two changes, if necessary.

True, we only need a point to qualify for the knockout stages and we have to ensure our players are well-rested and free of injury for the all-important Chelsea clash on Sunday, but we also have 4 things to remember:

1) FC Copenhagen

Now, those changes made then didn't go so well, did it? Even Sir Alex admitted he took a risk that went wrong. So why is he publicly stating he'll take another gamble with Celtic? I remember when Celtic came to Old Trafford (OLD TRAFFORD, no less), they came back from behind to equalise, twice. We ended up winning narrowly, 3 - 2. So Celtic are certainly no pushover, and will be even less so at Parkhead. I could go into all the other convoluted stories behind this match - Gordon Strachan (Celtic manager) hates Fergie, Fergie hates Celtic (he's Rangers and Aberdeen), Celtic supporters hate Man Utd, Man Utd supporters look down on Celtic, etc. etc. - but the point is, Celtic will go all out for a win. Pride is at stake here. If Man Utd don't raise their game, they will lose.

2) One point is good, but three points are better

Sure, a draw ensures qualification. But it does not ensure us getting top spot in the group. Being top isn't about bragging rights at all, but it helps us make sure that we don't meet any of the other table-topping teams in the next round. Obviously only the 2 best teams from a group make it through, but in this early stage (according to current table standings) I'd rather meet Lille than AC Milan.

I have to admit that this MAY backfire, since we also currently have teams like Real Madrid, Roma and Inter Milan lying in second spot and thus being our likely opponents should the current standings remain. But top spot at least helps us to avoid some of the best teams around.

3) The Chelsea match is 5 days away

Hello!! Five days is ample time for the squad to get rested and charged up. I would understand the whole exhaustion issue if the match was 3 days away, but 5 days is almost one week. Field a full-strength side now, whip Celtic, secure further progress and top spot, boost your egos and morale and then on Sunday beat the shit and stuffing out of Chelsea. See? Win-win situation.

4) Parkhead the Invincible Fortress

Celtic are unbeaten at home for the past ELEVEN Champions League games. The last game they lost was to Barcelona, who went on to win the Champions League. Parkhead is not a friendly place to travel to.

With all these points in mind, how can Man Utd put out a half-past-six team? They can't afford to.

Man to watch (Manchester United): I might get tired of having to write the same name week after week, but here goes - Wayne Rooney. Having rediscovered his scoring boots and his fine form, he is now officially a menace to any opposing defence. Just please, Sir Alex, don't stick him out wide on the right or left.

Man to watch (Celtic): Kenny Miller is a rich vein of form, having scored 3 goals so far in the Champs League (same is Louis Saha). Special mention to Thomas Gravesen, back to his imperious best at Celtic, and Shunsuke Nakamura is always a danger from set-pieces and his penetration.

Jaywalk's Encyclopaedia of Bookies' Odds says: Originally Man Utd was giving 0.5 ball with decimal odds of 2.025 but was to revised to give 0.25 ball and 1.8 to beat it. Either nobody is betting Man Utd or at the last minute bookies think it will be a Man Utd victory. And I'm reproducing verbatim from Jaywalk's SMS, so I have no idea in hell what this whole thing means. But if bookies are giving 0.25 ball for Man Utd, it sounds good to me. I have a hunch Man Utd can wrap this by a goal.

Disclaimer: The above views are purely my own two-cents' worth. In other words, I cannot and will not guarantee that my predictions are accurate. If you want to bet on the game, do so at your own risk. Also, please bet responsibly and within your means regardless of how "sure thing" that game may appear to be. As the old saying goes, "The Ball Is Round". Good luck.


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