Granada v Manchester United: United to step towards final four
Kevin Hatchard thinks the Europa League favourites Manchester United will march towards the semis with a first-leg win over Granada...
Plucky Granada have nothing to lose
It may seem a bit of a cliché, but Granada have already won in this season's Europa League.
Reaching the quarter-finals was surely beyond the imagination of their supporters, and the only tragedy is that those fans haven't been able to witness their team's incredible exploits first-hand.
Coach Diego Martinez has taken the Andalusian club into Europe for the first time, and they have excelled.
Granada had to battle hard just to get to the group stage, as they produced an impressive playoff win at Malmo. They then came through a tough group, given their lack of experience at this level. They made the perfect start with a win against PSV in Eindhoven, they beat Omonia Nicosia home and away, and they played out a pair of goalless draws with PAOK. A home defeat in the reverse fixture against PSV was their only defeat.
The Spanish outfit's efforts in the knockout phase have been even more impressive. They edged out an excellent Napoli side 3-2 on aggregate, and they coped with the unusual situation of being favourites against Molde in the round of 16. This quarter-final appearance against one of the biggest clubs in the world has been fully earned.
Understandably, Granada's La Liga form has suffered, and they have lost three of their last four games, including a 3-0 hammering by Villarreal at the weekend. Although they have beaten Sevilla at Los Carmenes this term, they have tended to struggle at home to the elite sides. They have lost at home to Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal, and on the road they have lost at Atleti, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad.
Granada could be without as many as six players because of injury, including regular right-back Dimitri Foulquier, left-back Carlos Neva and midfielders Luis Milla and Luis Suarez.
United can see route to glory
There's a strong argument to say that Manchester United are the strongest club left in the Europa League (they certainly looked it for parts of their aggregate win over Milan) and that's why they are the 2.64 favourites in the Europa League Winner market. However, they were arguably the strongest team left at this stage of last season's competition, and they fell short against Sevilla in the semi-finals. There are banana skins here too - the Red Devils would face either Roma or Ajax in the semi-finals, and if they took on Arsenal in the final, it's worth noting they have failed to score in both Premier League meetings with the Gunners this season.
The weekend's win over Brighton was hardly inspiring, but it kept Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men on course for second spot in the Premier League. United had to come from behind to win the game, Brighton probably should have had a penalty at 1-1, and Mason Greenwood's winner came in the 85th minute, but the points were welcome in any case.
Anthony Martial is out with a knee injury, while Phil Jones and Juan Mata remain on the sidelines. With the title race effectively over, and a top-four finish nearly in the bag, this competition is surely now United's top priority. Expect Solskjaer to field his strongest available side.
United can secure first-leg lead
It's worth remembering that Manchester United crushed Real Sociedad 4-0 in the first leg of their round-of-32 tie, and Real Sociedad are nine points better off than Granada in La Liga. That may be a crude guide, but La Real are demonstrably a better side, and United shredded them.
Granada have pushed the boundaries of what many thought they were capable of, but this feels like it will be a step too far. The hosts have some players missing, and although they beat Napoli, their overall form is poor at the moment. They have lost seven of their last 11 matches in all competitions.
I'll back United -1.0 on the Asian Handicap here at 2.05.
Flawless Fernandes a genuine goal threat
I know that I've come unstuck recently by backing Bruno Fernandes to score in United games, but even though the Portuguese midfield star has gone seven matches without scoring, I still think he is worth backing to find the net at 2.5. He takes penalties, free-kicks and is always keen to have a pop from distance. It's also worth bearing in mind that he's highly likely to start the game.
On the Granada side of things, the goals tend to be shared around. Former Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado has netted six times in the league, and he netted in both legs of the tie against Molde. If you want to back the 35-year-old to score, he's priced at 4.5.
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