United Have a Mountain to Climb

At 19:45 this evening, Manchester United will face Greek club, Olympiakos, at Old Trafford, hoping to become the second team from England to progress to the last eight of the Champions League.

Fans who are gambling on the game with Betfair know that United are in a bad way – on the surface, at least. The Reds are heading into the clash two goals down on aggregate, courtesy of strikes from Alejandro Dominguez and Joel Campbell, with a recent 3-0 defeat to bitter rivals, Liverpool, standing as a microcosm of their luck on the football pitch so far this season.

United’s home form is mid-table at best (the Reds would be 9th, between Southampton and Norwich – but 3rd on away form); the side’s talisman, Wayne Rooney, has not scored at home since October; Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans are both injured, and former Chelsea man, Juan Mata, is cup-tied.

However, despite their apparent difficulties, and the need to score at least three goals, Manchester United remain strong favourites to progress to the last eight with betfair.com, even if they are a 50/1 outsider for the Champions League title overall. Only Olympiakos and Zenit have longer odds than David Moyes’ men.

That note of optimism ostensibly hails from the two sides’ statistics in Europe: United have only lost once this season in Europe – to the Greeks, three weeks ago – while Olympiakos lost twice to Paris in the group stages, conceding six goals. United are also marginally better at keeping clean sheets (4-3).

Perhaps more relevant to the Red Devils this evening is the fact that Olympiakos, like Chelsea’s opponents at Stamford Bridge yesterday, Galatasaray, simply cannot win in England, losing their last seven on the bounce.

However, the worry among fans in the Betfair forums is not so much that Olympiakos will run riot tonight, but that United will continue to struggle at home and concede.

Regardless of the statistics, it remains difficult to envision a victory for United – and the fact that the media is dragging up the club’s unlikely defeat of Barcelona (in 1984) as evidence of the side’s potential suggests that progress to the final eight is firmly entrenched in the realm of nostalgia and fantasy.