Using extensive travel demands or congested fixture lists as a scapegoat for poor performances has long been a favoured exit strategy for football managers. Never one to miss a trick, Louis Van Gaal was keen to sew those early seeds a full working-week ahead of the Manchester derby.
With the Dutchman’s Manchester United facing CSKA Moscow in Russia on Wednesday night, while their local rivals enjoy a plush home tie against Sevilla on the same evening, Van Gaal believes it’s advantage Manchester City for Sunday’s Premier League clash.
History certainly suggests there is very little to concern the former Bayern Munich tactician.
A look at the club’s last five Champions League campaigns, which spans a shift in the Red Devils’ stature in both European and domestic competitions from regular challengers to today’s more transitional state, provides pleasing reading.
The club have followed 20 away games – either on a Tuesday or Wednesday – in the Champions League in that time with an impressive 14 wins, losing just four times and drawing the other two.
Van Gaal has contributed a win and defeat to those tallies this season and is perhaps taking the cautious approach having watched his side lose to Swansea after last playing away in Europe on a Wednesday.
Even so, United have generally coped well when faced with short preparation times. They’ve won seven of the 11 Premier League games they’ve contested following a Wednesday-night sojourn, avoiding defeat in another two of those outings.
Games against their biggest rivals (Arsenal, Chelsea and City) in that five-season sample have also gone better than expected, with four outings split with two wins and two losses. The 6-1 defeat to City after playing Romania’s Otelul Galati in 2011 is a painful reminder of how it hasn’t all been rosy though.
But journeys to Eastern Europe aren’t always recipes for Premier League defeat. They’ve played five games in Turkey, Ukraine and Romania in the last five European campaigns and followed up with four league wins.
Of course, it could be argued that United generally have a big enough squad to cope with the problems that playing in Europe so close to the weekend action brings. It is a greater issue for Europa League participants who are, Spurs and Liverpool aside, generally mid-table teams with smaller squads, playing on a Thursday.
However, it’s telling that in their most recent three Champions League seasons – widely regarded as the biggest period of evolution in United’s playing staff – the club have lost just twice after a CL away game, going unbeaten in the other nine and winning eight of them.
United are 6/4 to beat their rivals at home on Sunday and based on their history, that looks a cracking bet, no matter how disadvantaged Van Gaal thinks they are.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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