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Manchester United’s abject display at the King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon was the latest in a series of worrying results that threatens to unravel their season, even at this early stage.
United’s feeble-looking title challenge is in danger of dissipating after just eight games, while defeat at Old Trafford on Wednesday night would leave them on the verge of a second successive Champions League exit at the group stages.
The upcoming home games against Atalanta on Wednesday and Liverpool on Sunday have all the hallmarks of make-or-break fixtures in United’s campaign and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure as United boss appears to be on the line.
Solskjaer’s job is under incredible pressure after United picked up just one point from their last three league games, but the Norwegian has a peculiar habit of producing some of his most impressive results when his job looks to be in jeopardy.
Atalanta will be no pushovers, however. The Italians currently top Group F on four points and are yet to taste defeat in any away game this term, winning three and drawing two. They possess goal threats all over the pitch and are more than capable of hurting United’s fragile defence.
They are not rock-solid themselves though, and United may just have enough to ease some of the pressure on Solskjaer by collecting an invaluable three points – just as they did against Villarreal last month.
Wednesday 8pm – Man United v Atalanta
BT Sport 2 / Virgin Media 2
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Manchester United’s defensive struggles are well documented. The Red Devils have kept just one clean sheet in their last 19 games and were incredibly fortunate to hold Wolves scoreless in the one game that they did manage a shutout.
With Harry Maguire clearly not up to match speed and Raphael Varane out injured, United look even more vulnerable than usual and will struggle to contain an Atalanta outfit that has managed to score in all but one of their 10 competitive games this season.
The Italian side have scored an impressive 14 league goals in eight games and recently put four past Empoli in a convincing 4-1 away win. United will more than likely have to net more than once if they are to come away with a crucial three points, but should take comfort from Atalanta’s own defensive record.
The Italians have managed three clean sheets in 10 games all season, but have conceded six in their last three league games and two in their only other Champions League away game to date. There should be goals at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Predicting Manchester United’s goalscorers can be a precarious business. United have such a deep pool of attacking talent that it is difficult to predict who will start on Wednesday, never mind who will find the back of the net. Cristiano Ronaldo looks a solid bet to make it three goals in as many European games this term, but he has been subdued in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford made a goalscoring return from injury at the weekend and has scored 10 of his 11 Champions League goals in the group stages of the competition. But, he is not guaranteed to start by any means. It is much safer, therefore, to punt on the opposition – who employ a more settled starting XI.
Duvan Zapata is Atalanta’s top scorer at this early stage of the season and looks the safest bet to breach the United defence. The Colombian forward has scored four times already this season – more than any other Atalanta player – and has netted in each of his last two games. He averages three shots per game and should cause havoc amongst the fragile United back-four.
Manchester United’s goalscorers may be difficult to predict, but their assisters are a good deal more straightforward. Bruno Fernandes has recorded four assists for United in all competitions this season, including one in each of United’s two Champions League games to date.
Although Paul Pogba currently tops United’s assist charts, Fernandes is clearly more consistent, grabbing assists in four separate games to Pogba’s three. He also finished with 18 assists last season – at least five more than any other United player – and had the third-most assists at United in the 2019/20 season despite arriving in January.
The Portuguese maestro pulls the strings in the United team and has got assists in his last three games. It’s not inconceivable that he makes it four-in-a-row on Wednesday.
Manchester United To Win
Over 3.5 Goals
Duvan Zapata To Score Anytime
Bruno Fernandes To Have An Anytime Assist
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