Manchester United vs Atalanta | Wednesday 20th October 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
The pressure is mounting on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following Saturday’s 4-2 defeat at Leicester, where even Paul Pogba claimed something needs to change.
The Foxes were able to mount a serious assault on the Red Devils’ goal, with 22 attempts, half of which tested David de Gea. And if this plays out in a similar vein, the Old Trafford faithful will surely vocalise their displeasure.
Solskjaer did hint at tweaking his system to inject more energy and vigour, something that needs to be done to add more balance.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is eligible after his one-match ban, while Fred and Edinson Cavani are both available after missing Saturday’s defeat. However, Raphael Varane is still out.
Atalanta arrives in Manchester after blowing Empoli away 4-1 on Sunday with Josip Iličić scoring twice and even missing a penalty. It’s a result that leaves them in sixth in the Serie A table.
They sit top of Group F after an unbeaten start. A 2-2 draw against Villarreal was followed by a 1-0 win over Young Boys, in a game they should have won more comfortably.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side is likely to be underestimated once more ahead of this one. The all-attacking side from Bergamo have proved a stern test, especially for English clubs in recent seasons. They held Man City to a 1-1 in 2019, while 12 months ago, they were 2-0 winners at Anfield against Liverpool.
The veteran tactician does have a few injury problems with Rafael Toloi out with a right adductor strain. He joins Hans Hateboer, Robin Gosens and Matteo Pessina on the injury list.
The betting angles
Man Utd have won just once in their last five in all comps, yet they’re odds on to pick up three points. It gets a big no from me! That victory was in this competition although they were thankful for several saves from de Gea and a late Cristiano Ronaldo winner to fall over the line against Villarreal.
And some of the stats make for grim reading for United fans. They’ve lost 58% of their UCL games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (7/12) – the highest percentage of defeats by any manager to have taken charge of an English club on 10+ occasions in the competition.
Looking at Infogol, the Red Devils have created an expected goals of 1.69xG, while their expected goals against is 3.88xGA.
Here are those figures in this comp:
- Young Boys 1.43xG v 0.56xG Man Utd (2-1)
- Man Utd 1.13xG v 2.45xG Villarreal (2-1)
In contrast, La Dea have created 3.85xGF and faced 2.28xGA in their two group games, which have resulted in a win and a draw.
- Villarreal 2.20xG v 1.29xG Atalanta (2-2)
- Atalanta 2.56xG v 0.08xG Young Boys (1-0)
I have doubts over United positionally and the way Solskjaer is trying to set this team up, so I’ve tried to side with the entertaining Italians.
Looking through some of the markets, I feel Sky Bet have set a low line for the Italians racking up the shots. It’s 11/10 they record 12+ and it’s something I’m quite keen to have on side.
The Italians have hit 145 shots in 10 games in all comps, so an average of 14.5 shots per game. Breaking that down, this line has landed in eight of their 10 games.
In their Champions League games, they’ve taken 13 and 14 shots respectively. While domestically, they recorded 14 shots v Sassuolo, 16 v AC Milan, 21 against Inter Milan, plus 22 in the weekend win at Empoli.
United do look vulnerable and can be all over the shop defensively. Whether that’s a lack of confidence in the personnel or it’s just general sloppiness. Some will argue that Harry Maguire was rushed back on Saturday, which doesn’t help some of those opinions.
In 11 games in all comps, Man Utd have faced 142 – an average of 12.9 per game. While in the Champions League, their opponents have taken 35 shots (20 & 15), so de Gea has had plenty of work to do.
When you look at the figures, plenty of teams in the Premier League have hit 12+ against this United team. West Ham and Everton did, as did Newcastle, which might sum it up! At the weekend, Leicester racked up a massive 22, half of them were on target as well.
Just on those numbers alone, this 12+ line looks attractive. It’s not just the likes of Dusan Zapata, Ruslan Malinovskyi and Iličić who’ll catch this Utd defence out, but so will wing-backs Davide Zappacosta and Joakim Mæhle.
The former Chelsea defender has had 2+ shots in six of nine appearances, although one of those that count only saw him feature for four minutes. In this competition, he had four shots v Villarreal and two against Young Boys, so he’s on to look at flying forward to support attacks.
The second bet I’m playing is a Bet Builder, which comes out at 5/4 on Bet365. I’m combining both teams to score with over 1 card for Man Utd.
In terms of BTTS, these two sides aren’t too fond of keeping clean sheets. It’s an outcome that’s landed in eight of Man Utd’s 11 games in all comps, managing just one shutout against Wolves, where they rode their luck.
While it’s seven of 10 for Atalanta, keeping shutouts against Serie A new boys Salernitana and Swiss side Young Boys, who weren’t very adventurous on their trip to Bergamo.
With the expected goals figures above, both sides are quite clearly more suited to attack, so as the saying goes ‘attack is the best form of defence’, we should see an end-to-end contest with both keepers being busy.
Then the cards angle might need a bit more explaining. Firstly, Polish ref Szymon Marciniak is in charge, and he’s not card shy, showing 63 yellows and one red in 14 games.
The former midfielder has dished out 2+ cards to each team in 11 of those 14, and it’s the same figure that he’s shown the home team at least two cards. So, a referee that’s happy to show cards and not be swayed by home crowds is always helpful.
This Champions League campaign has seen them pick up four yellows and a red, with Ronaldo, Mason Greenwood and Alex Telles all booked in the home win over Villarreal.
It’s 19 yellows in all games for the Red Devils, and recently they’ve picked up nine in their last four, including three on Saturday against Leicester, where they committed 20 fouls.
We know how easy it can be to get yellows in Europe and the fact they picked up three against Villarreal for committing 12 fouls shows that.
While you might not be swayed with the United cards on their record, it’s worth noting that Atalanta’s opponents have picked up 2+ cards in nine of their 10 games. Just Young Boys escaped with one caution.
Otherwise, all other sides to face La Dea have seen a couple of cards. In their opening group game, Villarreal picked up four cautions and saw Francis Coquelin dismissed. While in Serie A, teams to have faced them have seen 2, 5, 4, 4, 2, 3, 4 & 3.
And that’s enough to make me think this attacking Atalanta can trouble Man Utd and expose a vulnerable defence. With a few left-sided players carded against them of late, Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire could find themselves in hot water.