It has been just over two months since Manchester United lost their Premier League crown to bitter rivals Manchester City in the most dramatic circumstances possible, and the long road to avenge that sensational season finale starts in earnest on Wednesday evening.
The whole club, none more so than manager Sir Alex Ferguson, are still hurting after Sergio Aguero’s late, late strike gave Roberto Mancini’s side a last-ditch comeback victory against Queens Park Rangers to snatch the title from under United’s nose and Ferguson has already stated that reclaiming their crown is his “number one priority”.
To that end, Ferguson has already been reasonably busy in the transfer market, adding Borussia Dortmund’s Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Crewe starlet Nick Powell to a squad that lost out on the title only on goal difference.
Both players have travelled with the United party for their pre-season tour of South Africa, which begins against Amazulu in Durban on Wednesday evening.
Amazulu’s Swedish coach Roger Palmgren will play his strongest team in what is the most glamorous of matches for his side and with a strong home support they could have enough to cause United one or two problems.
As is to be expected for the first game of pre-season, the Red Devils’ line-up will have something of an unfamiliar look to it, but nevertheless, they go into the match as strong favourites with bwin to see off a side that finished seventh in the South African Premier Soccer League last season.
United are 3/25 to win the match, with the draw at 27/4 and Amazulu long outsiders at 21/2 to cause an upset.
The first thing to say is that you won’t get rich backing that 3/25, especially given that United, missing several players for differing reasons, are bound to be ring rusty and lacking in fitness in comparison to their opponents, who begin their domestic season against Kaiser Chiefs in a couple of weeks.
That said, even a United side missing their Euro 2012 stars (who have been afforded extra rest after their exertions in Poland and Ukraine), the injured Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans plus the Olympic-bound Ryan Giggs, Rafael and David de Gea should have enough to see off the limited South Africans.
But 3/25 is not a price to get involved with, so the way to look at this match could be to play the 13/10 that both teams find the net.
Amazulu’s Swedish coach Roger Palmgren will play his strongest team in what is the most glamorous of matches for his side and with a strong home support they could have enough to cause United one or two problems, especially with star striker Goodman Dlamini in their ranks (the 24-year-old hit seven goals in 18 starts last season).
United’s team will be a blend of youth and experience, but is top heavy towards the attacking end of the pitch. Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Javier Hernandez are all likely to start, but the absentees mentioned earlier mean that Rio Ferdinand will be the only recognisable name in defence, with the largely untried Marnick Vermijl and Scott Wootton making up the back four.
It could mean that United are vulnerable at this very early stage of the season and with them certain to score, the 23/20 on both defences being breached looks like the value bet.
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