Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Midweek Outlook (20 Feb 2007)

Lille vs Manchester United

"...I think Larsson will be on the bench for this one, after his snub of a contract extension...."
- JayWalk, 20 Feb 2007

We played with our first team against Reading's second and all we got was a miserable replay in a week's time as a result of half-hearted draw.

We have a good 14 against 4 shots-on-goal and all we managed was a single goal. Either the Reading keeper was really in top form that day or our boys' hearts just weren't in the game at all. I chose to believe that it was the latter.

Today's ECL game is just too much of a distraction. Everybody played on ginger footing, all afraid of picking up injuries which may otherwise jeopardise their participation in the coming ECL match or worse, the rest of the season.

Frankly, there are two ways to look at this. The glass half-empty would see this match as our missed opportunity to put the game away at home when we had the chance. An excellent chance if I may add, that was against a second stringer team. A replay means an extra, if not unnecessarily, game jammed into our already hectic schedule. Certainly, a full week of rest would have been better? So now, not only did we lose the precious down time, we also made our campaign more difficult by having the replay away from Old Trafford.

On the glass half-full front, we see that match as a save-up for today's game i.e. we will be at full strength, throwing everything we've got against Lille. Besides, we are still in the FA Cup, aren't we?

JayWalk The Talk: Edwin van der Sar got onto the flight on Monday which means that things are looking good in the goal keeping department. However, the fact that Heaton also got onto the flight means that van der Sar may not be 100% out of the woods just yet. We'll have to keep our fingers' crossed.

Other than that, we had the full squad on the plane and surely that must be a good sign. Scholes is currently the record holder of 28 yellow cards in the ECL and one more means suspension in our return leg at Old Trafford. Speaking of suspension, Rooney will be back in the Starting XI, after serving his suspension in the game against Reading last Saturday. Watch out for him to start up front with Saha as I think Larsson will be on the bench for this one, after his snub of a contract extension.

More good news for us is that Lille's recent form has been bad and sliding down the French Ligue 1 table steadily since the winter break. They have not won in their last 4 games, scoring just 1 miserly goal in 4.

Still, we have to factor in the superstition of the jinx as ManUtd's last victory against Lille was way back in 2001 in the ECL. We also failed to score against them last season during our two meetings, also in the ECL. Their defence is something we cannot underestimate.

Lille's home ground, Stade Lille-Metropole will not be hosting this match as it did not meet UEFA's standards i.e. Lille's home ground advantage has taken a slight dent, if at all. The alternative venue has been set to be in Lens' Stade Felix Bollaert but the latest report, this morning, indicated that it has also be declared unfit for training which led the ManUtd team to once again shift camp to Stade La Gayette. Perhaps a ploy on the French side to unsettle us, just like when FAM tried to mess everything up from the minute our Young Lions landed in Sepang airport during the Asean Cup semi-final?

So far, there has not be any announcement of a change in venue as far as the game is concerned. That leaves me to speculate that the pitch, while unfit now, would be ready for the game in time but I doubt if it would be "putting greenly" manicured. This is certainly going to count against us as our pampered boys are not used to pitch that are less than Rolls Royce's standards. Our defeat at the hands of FC Copenhagen, on a pitch that was Bruce Springsteen's concert the night before, was the very evidence of that.

Given that it is the end of winter, will our boys be used to soggy and lumpy pitch with inferior undersoil heating? Your guess will be as good as mine.

JayWalk The Walk: ManUtd has to give up 0.5 ball and a decimal odds of 1.975 to beat it. So much for confidence in the bookie camp. The deficit would have been more if not for the fact that

a) Lille has not lifted a trophy in 50 years;
b) Lille has not won a game in their last 4;
c) Lille will not exactly be playing on home turf.

But, there is this nagging lack of confidence on the side of ManUtd because:

a) ManUtd first XI, couldn't beat Reading second XI last Saturday.
b) ManUtd last 2 away European fixtures ended up in defeat.
c) ManUtd does not play with enough hunger lately. Complacency?

So how?

I doubt if ManUtd will be knocked out at this stage but I think ManUtd would be considered lucky to escape with a draw tonight.

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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