After 90 pulsating minutes of high-octane Champions League football in the Bernabeu on Wednesday night, Manchester United return to domestic action this evening with a fifth-round FA Cup tie at home to Reading.
The Premier League leaders had to work extremely hard and maintain meticulous concentration for the entire match to emerge from their clash against Real Madrid with a 1-1 draw.
After such a mentally and physically draining encounter in midweek, it seems certain that Sir Alex Ferguson will rest a number of key players for the visit of the Royals and give squad players such as Javier Hernandez, Anderson and Nani a chance to impress.
For Reading, the idea of facing a second-string United side should give them encouragement, but all three of the aforementioned players are regulars for their national teams and would command starting spots for the Royals.
Hernandez, in particular, is a major threat as the striker has scored eight goals in 14 league appearances.
The home side’s strength in depth is perhaps epitomised in bwin’s goalscorer markets, where the Mexican poacher is 17/20 to find the net at Old Trafford, which are shorter odds than any of the Reading forwards, the lowest priced of whom is Adam Le Fondre at 13/4.
United’s dominance of the betting continues in the 3-way market, where they start the game as 1/4 favourites for victory, with the draw at 5/1 and visitors Reading real outsiders at 17/2.
The Red Devils are, of course, red-hot favourites thanks to their 12-point advantage at the top of the Premier League table and their fabulous home record – they have only lost twice in all competitions at Old Trafford this term, to Tottenham and CFR Cluj.
Reading, by comparison, have only managed three wins away from home, two of which came against QPR and Crawley in the cups, so they are rightly unfancied to cause a major upset at the Theatre of Dreams.
Just to add to the home side’s case, the history of this fixture weighs heavily in their favour too, as they have lost on just one occasion, back in 1927. Interestingly, although the two teams have faced each other 17 previous times, 12 of those games have come in the FA Cup.
The last of those cup meetings was in 2007 when the initial game finished 1-1, with United clinching a 3-2 win in the replay.
Ferguson’s men shouldn’t require a replay this time around, but if you’re not as confident in the result as I am, you can always take 7/100 on United winning the tie, but not necessarily the first game.
With United so comfortably fancied, it seems only right to ask how many goals they might put past their opposition and if the statistics are anything to go by, the answer to that question would appear to be quite a few.
When the two sides met in the league earlier this season, the Reds edged a seven-goal thriller, with all the goals coming in the first half.
This trend isn’t uncommon in United games as they have scored 31 times in the opening 45 minutes and are 13/50 to strike first this evening.
But don’t just bet on United finding their shooting boots, because Reading are more than capable of getting in on the act, just as they did in that pulsating league fixture at the Madejski.
Between them, United and Reading have been involved in 24 games with over 3.5 goals and my top bet is on this happening again at 9/10, while a price of 5/4 on the hosts winning a game of over 3.5 goals is also worthy of some investment.