Cup cheer for under-fire United
Ben Coley previews Tuesday's Capital One Cup semi-final first leg between Sunderland and Manchester United.
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The Capital One Cup might be the last chance saloon for Manchester United and their hopes of landing silverware this season, and they can take one big step towards the final with victory at Sunderland.
It's well documented that David Moyes has endured a difficult start to his time in charge at Old Trafford but away from home his side have found form and that's why they should be backed to give themselves much-needed breathing space ahead of the return leg.
Clearly, United have been poor at home for much of the season. Their defeat to Swansea in the FA Cup on Sunday came courtesy of another lacklustre performance and their inability to dominate in the middle of the pitch has starved their attacking players of service.
Away from home, though, they've toughed it out impressively enough. A hard-fought 3-2 win at Hull was the closest this United side have come to resembling that which flourished under Sir Alex Ferguson, and you have to go back to their 4-1 thumping at the Etihad Stadium for United's last away defeat.
Indeed, they've lost only to Manchester City and Liverpool on their travels - that includes three Champions League games - so while not always impressive, United do retain sufficient quality to win games they're expected to win when free from the pressure-cooker of Old Trafford.
A further boost to away backers comes from the team news, with Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, David De Gea, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney all set to return to the United squad. Carrick in particular can help them control possession against a Sunderland side who failed to really dominate against Carlisle in the FA Cup, albeit they did run out comfortably enough winners.
However, despite being confident that United have what it takes to win this, I do think there's better value to be had than settling for the 4/5 about an away win and once more make no apology for heading to the winning margin market.
United are 11/4 to beat Sunderland by a goal, as they did so in the league back in September, and that looks generous on everything we know not just about United, but their opponents too.
Moyes' side have demonstrated with wins at Norwich and Hull that grinding out narrow results away from home remains a strength and Sunderland are certainly capable of making life difficult.
Five of the hosts' seven home defeats have been via a one-goal margin including when United, Chelsea and Tottenham visited and a similar result looks likely. You may opt to dutch 1-0 and 2-0 United wins at a shade over 3/1, but at only slightly shorter I'll take the 11/4 and get the other options on-side.
It may also be worth backing draw-United in the half-time-full-time market.
With the busy Christmas schedule just behind us, it's unlikely that either side will be at their absolute best and we may see a scrappy first period before United assert after the break. United were level at half-time in both of those wins at Hull and Norwich, as well as their 2-0 win at Stoke in the quarter-finals.