Manchester United vs Athletic Bilbao Preview, March 8th

by Punter's Hero on March 8, 2012

in Football, Latest News

Manchester United will open the next round of their Europa League journey at home at Old Trafford on March 8 when they host Athletic Bilbao of Spain. Strangely enough, United has struggled quite a bit at home this season in European competitions and have won just once so far at Old Trafford. However, Bilbao hasn’t ever won a game in England.

The good news for United is that they should have defender Chris Smalling back in the line-up after suffering a head injury last Wednesday at Wembley in England’s 3-2 loss to Holland. Sanderson may also return to the midfield after being out for the past couple of months due to a serious knee injury. However captain Nemanja Vidic is out for the season and Michael Owen and Darren Fletcher are still out with long-term injuries. Tom Cleverly and Antonio Valencia will be game time decisions, but look doubtful to play.

For Bilbao, manager Marcelo Bielsa looks like he’ll be without the services of Carlos Gurpegi, Aitor Ocio, and Xabi Castillo as they’re all out with long-term ailments. Ander Iturraspe should be back in the midfield after missing Bilbao 2-0 Basque derby win over Real Sociedad on the weekend.

United go into this game after a huge 3-1 win over Tottenham on the weekend in a game they were basically outplayed in. The three points kept them in second place in the English Premier League, just two back of Manchester City. Their only win at home in four European games this season was a 2-0 defeat of Otelul Galati back when they were still in the Champions League. Bilbao will have to keep their eye on top striker Wayne Rooney as he leads the team in goals this season and also has three in Europe.

Athletic Bilbao is in fifth place in the Spanish La Liga and are a full 20 points behind Barcelona, who sits in second place behind league-leading Real Madrid. However, they’re only 10 points up in 17th-pace Villarreal. It’s safe to say that it’s been a pretty mediocre season for the Spanish side so far. Their top marksman is Spanish international Fernando Llorente who has 19 goals so far this season, but has managed just two of them in the Europa League competition. Bilbao has played seven games in England over the years and have drawn just one of them and lost all the rest.

These two teams haven’t met each other since way back in 1957 when United beat them 3-0. The game had to be played at Maine Road as Old Trafford was damaged from wartime bombing. United has won four and lost once in their past five games, while Bilbao has three wins, a draw and a loss.

Even though United has been struggling had home, they should muster up enough goals to win this game, but probably by not more than two goals.

Bet365 has the latest odds of a United win at 8/15 with an Athletic Bilbao victory at 11/2 and a draw is set at 3/1.

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