So far this season, Manchester United have hardly been convincing away from Old Trafford. Not exactly the ideal position to be in ahead of a visit to Mestalla for a clash with Valencia CF in the Champions League. Dropping two points at home against Rangers has put even more pressure on United to earn maximum points on Wednesday. Adding to the difficulty of this fixture is Wayne Rooney’s exclusion from the squad due to injury.
Valencia lost two of their star players this summer with David Villa departing for Barcelona and David Silva joining the blue half of Manchester. I originally believed that would make them an easier opponent, but the club has gotten off to a high-flying start in La Liga this season sitting undefeated at the top of the table.
Sunday’s draw against Bolton has added some complexity to my prediction for the squad to face Valencia. I’m sure we’ll go with a 4-5-1 in a tough away fixture, but the injuries in midfield are cause for concern. Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs, and Paul Scholes are definitely ruled out. Owen Hargreaves has returned to training, but it remains unclear whether he is ready to return to competitive action yet.
Rooney picked up a knock against Bolton on Sunday which has ruled him out of the trip to Spain. I believe in-form striker Dimitar Berbatov will be responsible for leading the attack against Valencia. Michael Owen has returned to his scoring ways this week with two goals against Scunthorpe and the equalizer against Bolton, but unfortunately for him he will likely have to settle for a role off the bench. He has begun cementing his role as a super sub recently, so I do feel fairly confident that Owen will be involved at some point in the match.
With only two senior wingers available I suspect that Nani and Park Ji-Sung will occupy the wide positions. Though, there is the possibility that Sir Alex will use Rooney out on the left wing as he has in the past. While Gabriel Obertan and Bebe have both shown promise when given opportunities, both are likely too inexperienced to warrant selection for a difficult away fixture.
As has become common practice in the more difficult away matches, Sir Alex will likely attempt to dominate the midfield by using three central midfielders. Scholes absence will be a tough one to cope with, and Darren Fletcher is the only midfielder whose involvement is surely certain. I would assume that Carrick’s involvement is also likely after his return from injury. That leaves either Darron Gibson and Anderson to complete the midfield trio, though I would prefer the Brazilian.
Sir Alex has made it fairly clear that he currently considers John O’Shea his first-choice right back, so I assume he will continue to use the Irishman for the trip to Spain. Assuming that Rio Ferdinand is fit, he should start against the Spanish opposition. Alongside Rio will surely be Nemanja Vidic, while Patrice Evra is likely to complete the back four. Edwin van der Sar should complete the squad with his presence between the posts.
History is not in United’s favor to break their bad run of form away from Old Trafford. United have managed only one victory in 18 away fixtures against Spanish opposition, while Valencia are undefeated at the Mestalla in 11 European matches. Valencia are currently perched at the top Group C after beating defending Turkish champions Bursaspor 4-0 in their opening Champions League fixture.
It’s hard to single out a key man in Valencia’s squad as they seem to have a well-rounded team. The entire squad has been chipping in with goals this season, making it even harder to define a clear attacking threat. It seems the void left by the departure of the two Davids – Silva and Villa – has been filled by a new team-oriented squad.
Call me pessimistic, but our struggles on the road this season combined with our poor history away to Spanish opposition hardly seems reassuring. Valencia are off to a fantastic start to their campaign while United have yet to hit top form this season. I think our squad is more than capable of going to the Mestalla and earning a point, but I think three points might be asking a bit much in this situation. The squad is also relatively depleted due to injuries at the moment, which means we travel to Spain with a squad that isn’t near full strength.
The likelihood that United will play with more conservative tactics makes it very probable that it will be a frustrating and low scoring match. I predict that the match will end in a goalless stalemate, leaving United with two points from a possible six in the Champions League group. Unfortunately, this will pile more pressure on the squad for the remaining four fixtures.
While I take pride in my work for this site and hope to make the best possible predictions for our readers, I sincerely hope that this time I’m wrong.
Prediction: Valencia 0, United 0
*Edited due to breaking news of Rooney’s injury.
**Edited due to breaking news of Scholes’ injury.
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