Manchester United are already guaranteed a place in the final 16 of this year’s Champions League but will go through as group winners if they can take at least a point from the visit of Shakhtar Donetsk to Old Trafford on Tuesday (19:45 GMT, live on ITV1).
United top Group A with 11 points from three wins and two draws. Shakhtar are three points back in second and are competing with Bayer Leverkusen to join United in the knockout stages. Real Sociedad are bottom with just a solitary point to their credit.
David Moyes has endured a difficult week in the build up to this match, with consecutive home defeats to Everton and Newcastle leaving his side ninth in the league, some distance from leaders Arsenal. These losses have again highlighted the deficiencies in the squad he inherited from the retired Sir Alex Ferguson.
The primary problem is United’s lack of quality in midfield. Both Everton and Newcastle were able to dominate the centre of the pitch, manoeuvring the ball around United’s two-man midfield with ease. Summer signing Marouane Fellaini is yet to offer any indication that he is the answer and further reinforcements will surely be forthcoming in January.
Moyes also needs to find a way of increasing United’s offensive efficiency. He likes to funnel play down the flanks, as evidenced by United’s decreased percentage of central attacks in comparison to last season, but his rotating cast of wingers is not providing enough creativity or goal threat to render this approach efficacious.
The quality pair of strikers Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney are carrying United at this point in time, with the duo having scored 68% of the club’s league goals. It is up to Moyes to find a way of getting the best from his two most talented players while also bringing greater balance to the rest of the side.
United have already lost as many league matches as they did in the whole of last season but their flaws have not been as readily apparent in Europe. There they have produced some of their best performances, including comprehensive victories home and away to Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen.
Moyes will welcome back Rooney from domestic suspension for Tuesday’s match, while Shinji Kagawa is expected to recover from the illness that ruled him out of the defeat to Newcastle. Chris Smalling (hamstring) and Fellaini (back) are doubtful, while Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick will definitely miss out.
Shakhtar come into Tuesday’s match on the back of four consecutive victories in all competitions. They have recovered from an inconsistent start to the season to head the Ukrainian Premier League and were very impressive in thrashing Real Sociedad 4-0 at home in their last Champions League match a couple of weeks ago.
Shakhtar lost two of their best players over the summer, when Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan moved on to Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund respectively. In their absence, some of the players already at the club have taken on more responsibility. There have also been flashes of talent from some of the young players signed with the proceeds of those transfers.
Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa have both stepped up to the plate, with Teixeira moving infield into the central attacking midfield role vacated by Mkhitaryan, and Costa taking his usual spot on the right flank. Of the new signings, Bernard, Fernando and Fred have made the strongest impression.
Shakhtar play quick, attacking football, with plenty of movement across the attacking midfield line and full-backs who like to get forward. They can, however, sometimes be overrun in midfield on the break, and with victory required to guarantee their progression could leave spaces for United to attack.
Coach Mircea Lucescu has no injury concerns ahead of this match. His squad is well rested, with the Ukrainian league having broken up for its winter break following their 1-0 win over Chornomorets last Tuesday.
Man Utd v Shakhtar Donetsk Betting Tips Verdict
These sides drew 1-1 when they played in Donetsk earlier in the group stage, with Taison cancelling out an early Danny Welbeck strike. It was the first time they had met in official competition. Shakhtar have won none and lost four of their previous five matches away to English opposition in European competition.
Shakhtar need victory to be assured of a place in the knockout stages and this necessity could play into United’s hands. They have generally looked more effective when playing a counter attacking game, most notably in the 5-0 away win over Leverkusen. They could profit from the space Shakhtar will leave as they go forward in search of goals.
We expect to see a relatively open match, with the draw that is enough for United and most likely insufficient for Shakhtar being the most probable outcome.
- Back the draw @ 13/5 with Paddy Power or William Hill.
- Back over 2.5 goals @ best odds of 4/5 with Ladbrokes.