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Gerrard to deepen the crisis at Man United with FA Cup win: John Brewin's unmissable matches

The problems at Old Trafford go beyond their interim manager, writes our columnist in this week’s European Eye.

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EVERY FRIDAY, FOOTBALL writer John Brewin – who has clocked up countless air miles covering the European game over the past decade – looks ahead to five key fixtures from the Premier League and around the continent. 

As well as explaining why you need to know about these matches, he’ll also pick out a tip for each one along with the latest William Hill prices. 

This week, there are notable storylines in the FA Cup, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, La Liga and Serie A. 

Manchester United v Aston Villa, FA Cup – 7.55pm Monday

manchester-england-29th-december-2021-ralf-rangnick-manager-of-manchester-united-looks-on-from-the-touchline-during-the-premier-league-match-at-old-trafford-manchester-picture-credit-should-read Ralf Rangnick has a massive job on his hands at Old Trafford. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

To say the vibes at Manchester United are not good could be an early contender for understatement of 2022.

Even before Monday’s loss to Wolves, the Ralf Rangnick caretaker/kingmaker plan looked to have severe holes in it.

Rangnick, for the moment, and before matters go all Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, has some mitigation on his side, with Covid riddling his squad and the Christmas schedule offering scant time on the training pitch in any case.

But the word escaping from the camp is that he has failed to win over United’s players, though fans are not exactly receptive to the suggestion certain members of the squad don’t think Rangnick is famous enough to coach them.

The problems at the club run deeper than a coach who has barely had time to know the best route to the Carrington training ground from his Cheshire digs, but a crisis point may already being reached.

Roy Keane, in a late-2021 discussion with Jamie Carragher, suggested the point of signing Cristiano Ronaldo was to “win the cups” and barring a miracle in the Champions League, the FA Cup looks the last such trophy on the menu for United.

The first trophy Ronaldo won in a United shirt was that competition in 2004 – when perhaps winning it meant more than it might now – but United have also gone almost five years without a trophy.

Will Rangnick pick a full team for this match? He may need to as Steven Gerrard, someone who also won the trophy as a youngster in 2001, should have similar designs.

file-photo-dated-20-11-2021-of-aston-villa-manager-steven-gerrard-who-wants-to-keep-axel-tuanzebe-at-aston-villa-after-the-on-loan-defender-was-linked-with-napoli-issue-date-friday-december-31-2021 Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Villa are an ambitious club and are chasing former glories themselves, though a mid-table position offers them leeway to go for the old competition. Gerrard concentrated on the league when up at Rangers but Villa’s best chance of winning silverware lies in these competitions.

These teams face each other the following weekend in the Premier League, and usually that would be seen as the most important of the two fixtures, but this looks a tie of greater gravitas for both.

Gerrard is still in his honeymoon period but Rangnick, for whom such a luxury is over, really needs to win this one. And whether the United players respond to that or again refuse to run for him is the leading question.

John’s bet: Villa to win at Man United @ 9/2

Bayern Munich v Borussia Monchengladbach, Bundesliga – 7.30pm Friday 

breel-embolo-mg-mi-scored-the-goal-to-make-it-4-0-lucas-hernandez-m-l-and-dayot-upamecano-m-arrive-late-late-shot-force-shot-soccer-dfb-pokal-2nd-round-borussia-monchengladbach-mg Breel Embolo scoring against Bayern Munich in October. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

This was once the biggest rivalry in Germany, and for a time, perhaps in the whole of Europe. These days, Gladbach are known as one of those teams who faded into the shadows of Bayern Munich.

Friday night, in the fixture that announces the second half of the Bundesliga season, may offer a chance for some form of minor historic redress. Should Gladbach win, however, there may be a Covid asterisk against it.

Bayern have been hit hard by Omicron and could struggle to put out a full team. Manuel Neuer, Lucas Hernandez, Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso, Dayot Upamecano, Leroy Sane and Tanguy Nianzou are out, while Leon Goretzka and Josip Stanisic are injured. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Bouna Sarr are heading to the African Cup of Nations.

In October, this fixture saw Gladbach knock the Bavarians out of the German Cup with a 5-0 hammering – their biggest-ever defeat in that competition. 

Bayern have been dominant this season while also strangely vulnerable. They look even more vulnerable here.

John’s bet: Gladbach to win at Bayern @ 13/2

Lyon v PSG, Ligue 1 – 7.45pm Sunday

lionel-messi-of-psg-during-the-french-championship-ligue-1-football-match-between-fc-lorient-fcl-and-paris-saint-germain-psg-on-december-22-2021-at-stade-du-moustoir-in-lorient-france-photo-j Lionel Messi. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Lionel Messi’s stay in Paris has not exactly been the glorious coda to his career that was expected.

The latest problem is his testing positive for Covid-19 – an infection that would seem to date from a trip home to Argentina – with a Rosario DJ, Fer Palacio, having to deny he was responsible for the great man contracting the virus. 

This match ought to be a battle of two great French clubs but Lyon are in a severe slump towards the bottom of the table. Even if Messi misses out, a PSG win is the only realistic outcome. And there is a decent case they are a better team without him.

John’s bet: PSG to win and both teams to score @ 2/1

Granada v Barcelona, La Liga – 5.30pm Saturday 

soccer-football-laliga-rcd-mallorca-v-fc-barcelona-visit-mallorca-stadium-palma-mallorca-spain-january-2-2022-fc-barcelonas-luuk-de-jong-celebrates-scoring-their-first-goal-with-riqui-pui Luuk de Jong and Riqui Puig celebrate the former's goal. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

According to club president Joan Laporta, Barcelona are back in business and will soon be competing for the biggest names in the game again due to a restructuring of debts.

The reality appears rather different in the short term, with Ferran Torres – as well as being Covid positive – not yet registered after his move from Manchester City.

Last week against Mallorca, it took a goal from Luuk de Jong, a player who admitted he may soon be odd man out. In the Copa Del Rey, Barca only just squeaked past Seguda B Linares.

Granada, unbeaten in La Liga since November and who defeated Atletico Madrid just before Christmas, could be tough opposition.

John’s bet: Granada and Barcelona to draw @ 29/10

Inter Milan v Lazio, Serie A – 7.45pm Sunday 

simone-inzaghi-head-coach-of-fc-internazionale-gestures-during-the-serie-a-match-between-fc-internazionale-and-torino-fc-at-stadio-giuseppe-meazza-on-december-22-2021-in-milan-italy Inter Milan boss Simone Inzaghi. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Serie A kicked off the year with a round of fixtures on Epiphany before reverting to the usual weekend schedule and Inter, defending champions and top of the league, will take on Lazio – the former club of their manager, Simone Inzaghi.

They do so without Romelu Lukaku, yet to get his wish to return. Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez have taken up the goalscoring slack, scoring 11 goals each, though neither can match the enduring potency of Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, who has already scored 17 in all competitions.

Lazio, the highest scorers out of the top four, concede quite a few too. Expect goals.

John’s bet: Inter to win and both teams to score @ 9/5

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org  

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