Ajax v Manchester United, 18:00
To be honest the Premier League sides have drawn a rather poisoned chalice from the Europa League fire, to horribly mix some metaphors. Whilst United only have a short journey to a top club, they may have hoped for a rather less challenging opponent and atmosphere, and the test on their resources will be greater for the need to play a properly competitive eleven. Having said that, this Ajax team pales in comparison to the ’94 outfit, so Ferguson may take a calculated risk on a few of his younger stars.
Manchester United will rest Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov for this game, but Nani and defender Phil Jones have been named in the 20-man squad having recovered from injury, as have Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley. Youngsters Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers are also in the squad for the match in Amsterdam. Bet365 have 14/1 on a 2-1 home win, and I’m torn between that and 1-1.
Porto v Manchester City, 20:05
If you stop listening to FIFA for a second and cast your mind across Europe, you’d struggle to find two more exciting sides than City and Porto. The blues of Manchester may well be the last side constructed for such a huge amount of money, and Porto is not just a hotbed for the future stars on the pitch, but is becoming well-known for producing top managers to go with it. They played well against Barca in the season-opener in Monaco, and Mancini will know very well than even a draw in Portugal is a proud achievement.
Manchester City welcome back midfielder Yaya Toure and defender Kolo Toure, who are due to join up with the squad on Wednesday. Striker Mario Balotelli may also play after serving a domestic suspension. However, fellow forward Carlos Tevez, who has returned from his self-imposed exile in Argentina, is not registered to play. Blue Square have 15/2 on Porto winning by 2 goals, but a good City performance could see them take home a draw.
Stoke v Valencia, 20:05
This wouldn’t have sounded a very likely fixture a few years back, but Stoke have come a long way in a short time and we’ll soon know if Valencia can do it on a cold Thursday night in Stoke. My guess is that the likes of the Spanish giants, much reduced by sales and financial mismanagement, will find it very hard to counter the Stoke set-pieces, but the flip side will be the technical difference between the Spaniards and their hosts, making this a truly fascinating contest.
Stoke will be without defender Matthew Upson for the Europa League match against Valencia after he was sent off in the Potters’ final group game. His place is likely to go to Robert Huth, who is currently serving a three-match Premier League ban. Roberto Soldado is the favourite to score first, with Betfred offering 11/2 on it.