Louis Van Gaal leads his struggling Manchester United team into a tricky Boxing Day away trip to the Britannia Stadium, and face a Stoke City side packed with talent. LVG could arguably not have wished for a more awkward looking lunch time game, as the pressure mounts following six games without a win for the Red Devils
In an astonishing press conference on Wednesday, LVG dismissed speculation that his tenure at Old Trafford was in perilous danger of coming to an end prematurely. Many pundits, former players, and fans have criticised the manner of Manchester United’s style of play this season, and the sudden dip in results has compounded matters yet further. Former Manchester United player and current Valencia coach Phil Neville came out in defence of LVG this week, and adamantly believes the Dutchman should be given more time. Either way the next two fixtures, Stoke City away and Chelsea at home, could well be make or break.
Since Manchester United last won on the 21st November (2-1 away win against Watford), they have been eliminated from the Champions League, lost three and drawn three games. The voices of discontent were apparent even before this, with the team notching up three successive 0-0 results at the back end of October. There’s no question that LVG employs tactics that seem to have produced rather tepid displays this season, lacking in any genuine attacking creativity. Manchester United are the third lowest goalscorers in the top ten in the league, and have scored only one more than Chelsea this season (Yes, that bad!).
Stoke City are the joint lowest goalscorers in the league with Aston Villa, having only managed 14 league goals so far this campaign. Despite the likes of Bojan, Shaqiri, Arnautovic, and Afellay heading up a forward line your average player of Football Manger 2016 would blush at, Stoke haven’t be able to consistently deliver their best. Stoke have tended to produce their best performances in televised games, having beaten Chelsea and Man City in TV games already. Defensively Stoke have proved very difficult to breakdown, and up until last week’s game against Crystal Palace, had only conceded two goals since the end of September in the Premier League.
This game will showcase the two in form goalkeepers in the Premier League this season, in David De Gea and Jack Butland. Michael Owen only recently backed Jack Butland to be an eventual successor to De Gea at Manchester United, and it’s hard not to see Butland carving out a bright future for club and country. For a keeper so young, Butland commands a strong sense of authority and swagger you would usually associate with a goalkeeper at least five to ten years older. Butland has kept seven Premier League clean sheets this season, compared to De Gea’s six, albeit De Gea didn’t play until the end of the transfer window in late August. The obvious and most logical bet based on this would be to back Under 2.5 goals at 4/7 with Bet365. However a contrarian punter like myself, would see this as an opportunity to get generous odds on Over 2.5 goals at 29/20 with BetVictor. I find it difficult to back Under 2.5 goals at any time, and at 4/7 the odds don’t seem particularly appealing.
As a part insurance bet I like Draw/Draw on the Half Time/Full Time betting market, currently best priced odds at 18/5 with BetVictor. LVG won’t want to lose this game whatever happens, and equally Mark Hughes won’t want to lose face against his former club, so a draw seems a likely outcome. But if you fancy LVG to come unstuck, and the Potters to repeat their 2-0 success over the blue half of Manchester you may fancy an eye catching 17/1 with BetVictor for a repeat result. This lunchtime game kicks off the Boxing Day football schedule and promises to be an intriguing clash, if not necessary one for the football purists.
Francois is one of Howtobet4free’s co-founders and has written many of Howtobet4free’s popular Betting Guides. Francois also helps run the @howtobet4free_ Twitter account