Incredible jump and hang-time; Ronaldo waits in the air to calmly head the ball into his former club’s net.
Opinion is divided as to whether Real Madrid or Manchester United is the favourite to qualify for the quarter-finals of this season’s UEFA Champions League following the 1-1 draw between the European heavyweights in Spain last week.
Many pundits, including BBC’s Robbie Savage and ESPN’s Robbie Earle, believe that Manchester United is in the driving seat after the first leg in which Danny Welbeck headed the Red Devils in front and Cristiano Ronaldo equalised for Real Madrid with an incredible header, seemingly hovering above Patrice Evra for an age.
Bookmakers, however, are sticking solid with Real Madrid, albeit by the finest of margins in some instances. The Meringues are odds on across the board to make the last eight of European club football’s top tournament, with Manchester United trading at odds of around 11-10.
One group that is no doubt as to which team is on top going into next month’s second leg at Old Trafford is Infostrada, now called Gracenote,, whose statistical nerds have spent too much time with their heads in the history books of European club competitions.
If history is any guide – and the data that Infostrada has analysed includes more than 50 years of ties in the various European tournaments so it should be meaningful – Manchester United ought to be very short odds to eliminate Real Madrid.
Historically, 75.8 per cent of sides that have drawn the first leg of a European club knockout tie away from home by a 1-1 scoreline have ended up triumphant. So, according to the history books that Infostrada have dusted off and gone through with a calculator, Manchester United should be trading at odds of around 1-3 to oust Real Madrid.
Interestingly, Manchester United versus Real Madrid is the only one of the four UEFA Champions League last-16 ties that got under way last week in which the current qualification odds of bookmakers differ much from the historical data.
Juventus beat Celtic 3-0 in Glasgow and the Italian Serie A table topper is trading at odds of around 1-500 to eliminate its Scottish opponent. According to the historical data, Juventus is a 99.4% chance to make the next round.
David Beckham’s latest employer, Paris Saint-Germain, upset Valencia 2-1 in Spain, a result that saw bookmakers slash their odds about the French Ligue Un frontrunner qualifying for this term’s UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. PSG is trading at odds of around 1-8 to knock out its Spanish adversary and the historical data suggests that it is a 96.0% chance of reaching the competition’s last eight.
And Borussia Dortmund, the German Bundesliga giant that forced a 2-2 away draw versus Shakhtar Donetsk, is trading at odds of around 2-9 to progress. The historical data suggests that Dortmund is an 82.2% chance to go through.
The historical data suggests that Manchester United is a value bet at 11-10 to knock out Real Madrid. But are there other interesting wagers pertaining to the tie of the UEFA Champions League round that are worth striking? The answer is yes because of how the second leg is likely to pan out.
Real Madrid has to score at least one goal at Old Trafford if it wants to keep alive its UEFA Champions League dream so Meringues boss Jose Mourinho will be hoping that Manchester United play the role expected of a home side, attack from the opening whistle and commit numbers ahead of the ball.
So What Does This Mean For The Utd vs. Madrid Game
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is not the sharpest tactician in the world game – his successes have been the product of his brilliant man-management skills – but even Fergie knows that the Red Devils should play conservative football if they want to eliminate Real Madrid. The Scot got Manchester United’s tactics absolutely spot on in the first leg, instructing Phil Jones to harass Ronaldo and getting good value from Wayne Rooney and Welbeck in wide midfield positions. One would be shocked if the Red Devils deviate too far from its Madrid plan that worked pretty well.
Therefore, it is worth checking out the odds available about a low-scoring first half at Old Trafford. Manchester United would be happy if the half-time score was 0-0 because it would put the pressure on Real Madrid to come out and play like a de facto home team after the break. The bottom line is that both the Red Devils and the Meringues are at their best when they are able to counter attack. So a goalless first half could lead to a goal-packed second half.
One can get odds of around 27-10 that neither Manchester United nor Real Madrid scores in the first 45 minutes at Old Trafford and odds of around 11-10 that the second half at the self-styled Theatre of Dreams features more goals than the first one. Both bets appeal given the state of the tie.