Slim Olympiakos hopes hinge on Paraguayan pair
Nelson Haedo Valdez has never scored against English opposition, but Olympiakos will hope he can do so for the first time as they entertain Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Paraguay forward Valdez, 30, is 11/4 to score anytime in this match, yet the Greek Super League champions are 3/1 outsiders to qualify for the quarter-finals. Managed by former Real Madrid playing great Michel, Olympiakos are missing some big names in attack.
Experienced Argentine Javier Saviola misses the visit of David Moyes’ Red Devils because of a thigh problem. Top scorer Kostas Mitroglou, meanwhile, was sold to Fulham in the January transfer window.
Young Serbia international Marko Scepovic, who hit a hat-trick in Olympiakos’ weekend win, is not registered for the Champions League despite being eligible.
That just leaves uncapped 21-year-old Nigerian Michael Olaitan, yet to break his duck in the competition, as an alternative to lead the line.
Valdez was not the only Paraguayan recruited by Michel in January, however. Winger Hernan Perez, an 11/2 chance to score anytime, quit Villarreal for the runaway leaders in Greece.
The plan seems to be to replicate their understanding at international level – after all, Paraguay reached the 2011 Copa America final and both played.
Punters need not worry about Olympiakos’ supporting cast too much either. Journeyman attacking midfielder Alejandro Dominguez, 32, has two Champions League goals from the group stage, but only one from open play. He is all about assists, having made twice as many Super League strikes as he’s scored, but may find Valdez difficult to feed here.
Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell may occupy the left flank. He would be the natural option, but Michel has often opted for fellow Spaniard David Fuster down that side. Coral offers odds of 10/3 on Costa Rica’s Campbell converting a chance here and 7/1 on Fuster.
Central defender Kostas Manolas also netted twice in the group stage, so you might think set pieces are a decent avenue for Olympiakos. Odds of 16/1 on him scoring anytime are tempting, but United kept Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace out in their last match.
Going into that encounter, no Premier League team had scored a higher proportion of goals from set pieces than the Eagles. Veteran centre back pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic gave Moyes a clean sheet and the Red Devils are 6/4 shots for another shut-out here and 12/5 to win to nil.
If you’re willing to look beyond the usual suspects scoring for United, veteran Ryan Giggs has three goals in four appearances against Olympiakos. Back the player-coach, who has yet to be on target this term, at 6/1 to net anytime in Greece.
Moyes’ men are 11/10 to win the first leg and odds-on at 1/4 to advance to the last eight. Expect Olympiakos’ struggles when paired with top European opposition to continue here. Given their striker shortage, bet now on their total goals being under 0.5 at 13/8.