Manchester United’s Champions League Run to Offer a Welcome Break From the League

Galatasaray's Didier Drogba will face Chelsea for the first time since leaving the club

Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba will face Chelsea for the first time since leaving the club

Brendan Rodgers has a saying, naturally: “Per aspera ad astra”, which, says Brendan, is Latin for “through adversity to the stars.” And what we wouldn’t give for the Americans to roll up at Old Trafford with their lights and cameras and start shooting the long-awaited sequel to the series that brought us Brendan “Brendan” Rodgers, if only to know which dead language David Moyes is using to motivate his players.

But we’ll come back to United in a moment. I’m not going to lie and say I watch the Greek Super League, so I’m just going to state facts: Olympiakos enjoy a cruel level of success domestically, but haven’t yet progressed beyond the first knockout round in the Champions League. They came in second to PSG in the group stage, level with Benfica but ahead on goal difference. They also sold their top scorer and star player, Konstantinos Mitroglou, to Fulham, because why not? Those are the facts about Olympiakos, who are up against a United side that is curiously functional in Europe.

Olympiakos v Manchester United Betting Odds

Olympiakos to win – 3.40

Draw – 3.30

Manchester United to win – 2.15

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

David Moyes says the Liverpool side of 2005 “gives United hope”. Nemanja Vidić, with one foot in a metaphorical lifeboat and the other on the metaphorical sinking ship, says United are capable of “something special” – which we know they are, but we also know they are not. It all depends on which Manchester United turns up: if it’s the same side that drew with Fulham and lost to Stoke then they could find themselves in trouble; if it’s the side that beat Bayern Munich in Barcelona 15 years ago then they should be fine.

Beneath the cloud of rhetoric is reality. Manchester United should progress (over two legs) against a side that isn’t quite as good as them, which is the natural order of things. Yet this is a side that’s 11 points and a bomb threat off the Champions League places, and is without the cup-tied Juan Mata. I’ll go for a draw in this first leg. It’s not an exciting prediction, nor is it particularly risky, but it’s a prediction that’s somehow in keeping with the spirit of the week’s fixtures – predictable. Es fortis, David, es fortis. Keep looking at the stars.

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho exists, and Chelsea (1.92 with GR88.com) will be in the quarter-finals soon enough. While Galatasaray (4.00) are an increasingly fun team to play with on FIFA, they beat mathematical possibility and qualified for the knockout stage having lost 10-2 to Real Madrid on aggregate, and only after a late goal in a weird, frozen and broken-up match against Juventus – it’s a UEFA conspiracy that goes right to the top or something (if it is a conspiracy then they might have chosen something more interesting – ed.). Expect Drogba and Mourinho to greet each other warmly before the match, then expect the Portuguese to narrow his eyes, forget about friendship and gesticulate his way towards a reasonably comfortable away win.

Zenit Saint Petersburg (or Zenit St Petersburg for short; 4.30 with AllYouBet.ag) went one better than Galatasaray by winning even fewer games in the group stage, somehow scraping through in second place with three home draws, one away win, and 5 goals in total. It’s almost unfair that they should have any chance at winning this competition, but here we are. They play Borussia Dortmund (1.80) at home in one of those weird, frozen Russian matches that kick off early and where literally anything can happen, except sustained periods of good football. Predicting a result is tricky here, but Dortmund should score – I’m sure of that much. Finally, Schalke (or Schalke 04 if you’re cultured and drink wine and read books and speak languages), 21 points off the top of the Bundesliga and relatively unremarkable in the group stage (and 6.80 with GEObet.com), will be the team to roll over for Real Madrid (1.45) this week.

(All odds are subject to change)

Betting Instinct Tip – A Chelsea and Real Madrid double is 2.78 with GR88.com

Max avatarMAX GRIEVE (maxjgri) is Australian, but keep reading. He likes football, rugby union and tennis, though has given up on his dream of being a tri-sport athlete/exciting millionaire. He supports Liverpool, and is ashamed for doing so.

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