Europa League tips, 8th March 2012

Manchester United v Athletic Bilbao, 20:05

After overcoming a pretty decent Ajax side with something to spare United could have wished for an easier draw, but the reality is that at this stage there are no real minnows left in the competition. As much as I despise the practise of dropping big teams into the Europa League as a reward for their failures in the group stages of the Champions League, if United and City make the effort to win this competition it will be improved for that. The Spaniards are used to big games, but will struggle to match the home side at full strength, although they will bring a couple of talented young players with them.

Anderson could return for Manchester United as he has recovered from a knee injury suffered on 8th January. Chris Smalling (head) and Tom Cleverley (ankle) are also in the frame but Paul Scholes is expected to miss out. Wayne Rooney is a 4/1 favourite with Ladbrokes to open the scoring, if the mercurial lump starts.


Sporting v Manchester City, 18:00

Manchester City travel to Portugal to take on possibly the weakest of the traditional big three sides in that country. Porto and Benfica have made serious dents on Europe in recent years and to some extent the former giants of Sporting have been left behind, both on the recruitment front and that of trophies. City have struggled on the road so far this year, at least on the continent, and Roberto Mancini will no doubt make clear to his players that they must stamp their dominance on the game from minute one.

Manchester City will be without midfielder Yaya Toure for the trip to Portugal to face Sporting, as he is suspended. Defender Pablo Zabaleta (hamstring) is also out but Micah Richards could return to replace him at right-back. Although back in training, Carlos Tevez is not registered to play in the Europa League along with midfielder Owen Hargreaves. I think a 1-1 draw is the most likely, and WilliamHill offer 13/2 on such an outcome.

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