MANCHESTER UNITED continue their Europa League campaign on Thursday against Astana. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) shares his betting thoughts.
Astana v Manchester United | Thursday 27th November 2019, 15:55 | BT Sport
Manchester United make the long trip to Kazakhstan with the comfort of knowing that they have already sealed their place in the Europa League knockout stages but given their domestic woe, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can ill afford another embarrassing result if he is to remain in charge for much longer.
Sunday evening’s radio phone-ins were full of United fans far from happy with their team’s performance at Sheffield United and it’s hard to disagree. For 70 odd minutes, Solskjaer’s men were dreadful and despite showing character to get in front and then being rather unfortunate to fall victim to another controversial VAR decision, it would have been daylight robbery had the Red Devils come away from Bramall Lane with all three points.
The Europa League campaign, despite hardly sparking into life, has been a slight rest bite for the United squad and supporters and qualification with two games remaining can certainly be deemed as a success, albeit a bare minimum one.
Astana, on the other hand, sit bottom of the group without a single point so will purely be playing for pride here. The Kazaks were hardly disgraced in the reverse fixture though, falling to a 1-0 defeat following Mason Greenwood’s 73rd minute goal having put up a solid resistance to that point.
United to keep Astana in-check
Since that game on matchday one, United have started to find their scoring touch more frequently and have registered two or more goals in five of their last six games and despite their horror show defending in the Premier League, they have kept clean sheets in six of their last eight Europa League matches demonstrating their dominance against opposition from far weaker leagues.
With Astana having lost the shot count 20-3 at Old Trafford, having the second-lowest shot-per game average (5.8) of the 48 teams in the Europa League group stages and having scored just once in four Group L games, United to win the game without conceding at 7/2 with BoyleSports is my favourite play.
Phil Jones, despite the funny faces and unconventional style, has deputised well in this competition when covering for the injured Eric Bailey and was awarded man of the match in the 1-0 success over Partizan as the away side came under significant pressure without cracking in Belgrade.
United are suffering on the numbers front currently so although they would like to rotate, the amounting injuries is likely to leave them without a choice but to play a near strongest eleven for the game which gives me further confidence in backing United to succeeded on Thursday evening.
Red Devils to survive long trip unscathed
Astana’s domestic season finished on 10th November, winning the Kazak league by a single point ahead of Kairat Almaty which was a 14 point difference from the previous league title success in 2018. Although Manchester United have only played one match since that date, training is certainly no substitute for match sharpness and coming off a tough game in Sheffield should give United the edge on that front.
Astana have recently become less imperious at the Astana Arena than they once were and are arguably rather fortunate to have even made it to the groups having progressed past the hardly imperious Santa Coloma of Andorra, Valetta of Malta and BATE Borisov of Belarus.
The team are heavily reliant on Marin Tomasov’s goals from midfield and their defence, which was an average age of 32 in their last Europa League match against AZ Alkmaar, struggles to deal with any form of pace which the Dutch side had in abundance – winning both games 6-0 and 5-0 to demonstrate the class gap between the top and bottom two sides in this group.
If United play any combination of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood (highly likely given their lack of other options) it could be a long night for the home team.
United will have learnt from their last experience of playing on an artificial surface in the 0-0 draw at Alkmaar but the pitch may not be the biggest issue to deal with given the current temperatures in Nur-Saltan – forecasted to be -10 degrees on Thursday (feeling more like -15 at kick-off time) which will make Manchester in November seem tropical.
Although it could take time for United to adjust to these conditional factors, they have scored 60% of their Europa League goals in the 1st half of games and before this past weekend, 62.5% of the team’s goals in the Premier League had come in the first 45 minutes.
Team that with the fact that Astana have been trailing at half-time and gone on to lose in four of their last 5 Europa League matches, I am going to add United half-time/full-time to the best bets list which is available at 11/10 with Coral.
With this being an early kick-off for those in the UK which will limit the viewing figures combined with the fact that United are already through, the pressure should be off Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s young troops and I think they’ll see off Astana, who are certainly no Sheffield United, with relative ease.
Astana v Manchester United – Manchester United to win to nil (7/2 BoyleSports)
Astana v Manchester United – Manchester United HT/FT (11/10 Coral)