Expect red-hot run for Rooney
Ben Coley previews Tuesday's Champions League action and fancies Wayne Rooney to find the net for Manchester United.
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When David Moyes took over at Manchester United in the summer, the popular - and logical - assessment was that his lack of European experience would be the first hurdle to overcome.
Yet having fallen over already in the Premier League, Capital One Cup and FA Cup, United have been going strongly in Europe where perhaps able to play with the freedom brought about by low, or indeed no expectations.
Clearly, a group that involved Leverkusen, Shakhtar and Sociedad represented a gentle introduction and it may well be that Moyes is exposed further down the line, but for now United will be confident of making the quarter-finals thus keeping faint hopes of silverware alive.
Olympiacos are no mugs. The Greek Super League may not be that competitive, but the Erythrolefkoi have been thoroughly dominant this season and won for the 24th time in 26 matches at the weekend to confirm their superiority.
Unfortunately for them, it was a victory which came at a cost as top scorer Javier Saviola lasted just 33 minutes before limping off with an injury which will keep him out of this game. In his stead will be Nigerian forward Michael Olaitan who, while less prolific, scores frequently enough to offer hope for the home supporters.
For United, the absence of the cup-tied Juan Mata robs them of midfield creativity so it's no surprise that team news has led to many punters backing under 2.5 goals, which now trades at around the 4/6 mark and therefore looks too short.
I must confess that I don't expect life to be easy for United, but I did expect them to be a shade shorter than 5/4 to win this game and it's a price worth considering. As an added bonus, they're unbeaten against Greek opposition and have won all four meetings with their last-16 opponents so a narrow win may be on the cards.
However, I'd prefer to take a chance on Wayne Rooney adding to his second-half strike against Crystal Palace on Saturday evening.
It may be no coincidence that Rooney returned to scoring form in the week that saw him put pen to paper on a new contract, and as a notoriously streaky player I fancy we'll see him add to his tally over the coming weeks.
Having a point to prove has always been an aide to Rooney's form. It's something that can be traced back to 2006, when he responded to being sent off for England at the World Cup by scoring 23 times the following season - that's his second-highest tally in any single campaign.
So with some questioning whether United were right to accept his wage demands watch for the 28-year-old producing the type of performance which comes along all too infrequently, but is unplayable when it does.
For those who like to chance their arm with a scorecast I'd look at Rooney to score first in a 1-0 United win, but the sensible wager here is simply Rooney to find the net at any time at a more than reasonable 9/5.
As with last week, when a late Atletico Madrid goal denied the predicted draw, I do feel the night's other tie - which kicks off earlier at 1700 GMT - offers the better betting opportunities.
Borussia Dortmund head to Zenit as firm favourites to qualify despite a humbling Bundesliga defeat at Hannover last weekend, and on the strength of their group form last year's beaten finalists should progress without great alarm.
However, I'm not keen on backing Jurgen Klopp's side at odds-on away from home particularly as there shouldn't be any great need for urgency, given that a goalless draw would put them firmly in command ahead of the return leg.
Indeed, I was a little surprised to see under 2.5 goals priced up at odds-against. It would've paid out for all three of Zenit's home games in their group and that includes the visit of free-scoring Atletico, which suggests they can contain Dortmund for a time.
If you go back through history, over half of the first-leg games at this stage of the competition (since the 2003 reformatting) have seen fewer than three goals scored (47 out of 80 overall and at least four from eight each season) and when there's a clear class advantage with the away side, I'd expect that trend to be even stronger.
But a better bet is taking 6/4 about a half-time draw, if the records of both sides are anything to go by. Zenit have gone in level at the break in all three of their Champions League home games and five from six overall, while Dortmund were level at both Marseille and Arsenal when the whistle went for half-time.
Again, it's a common occurrence for teams to take a while to hit their stride at this stage of the competition. Last year, five of the eight first-leg ties were level at the break and already this time around it's happened in three of four games, all of which saw the visitors priced up as favourites.
Of course, these stats aren't conclusive but when viewed alongside the make-up of this tie, evens or 10/11 would appear to be a more accurate price.