Defensive crisis hits Manchester United as they head to Wolfsburg in the Champions League

Wolfsburg v Manchester United, Champions League, December 8, 2009

Wolfsburg 5/4; Draw 9/4; Manchester United; 17/10

“I’m sure there are numerous clubs looking at him. Are we one of them? We are looking at talent all the time and we are in there with the rest of them. He showed his threat in the game at Old Trafford and he appeals because he is a tall, skilful boy and in some ways an ideal player for the English league. He has stature, his feet are good and he is producing some very good performances. I am sure everybody has looked at him. I don’t think it is a surprise what he has done.” – Mike Phelan on Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko.

The transfer gossip websites have been awash with the rumour that Manchester United are homing in on the Bosnia-Herzegovina striker after quotes from Sir Alex Ferguson’s right hand man.

It is an age-old tactic to link the opposition’s best player with a big move prior to an important match and whilst United only need a point to secure top spot in Group B, there is no doubt that Dzeko will be a huge threat for a backline that is missing a host of players. (Edin Dzeko is 6/4 to score & 11/2 to score first.)

Wolfsburg go into this game in second place, level with CSKA Moscow on seven points with the Russian giants facing a tricky match at Besiktas. If the Bundesliga champions can equal of better CSKA’s result in Turkey they will qualify for the knockout stages which would be an impressive achievement considering they have never played Champions League football before.

Armin Veh’s strike force of Dzeko and Brazilian Grafite (9/1 to score a brace), should be confident of scoring against a United defence that is missing a host of defenders. At West Ham on Saturday, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra finished the game in central defence, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s difficulties at the back appear to be continuing with reports on Monday confirming that Nemanja Vidic was one of a number of absentees as Manchester United left for Germany. (Manchester United are 19/10 to keep a clean sheet.)

The Premier League champions will be without Gery Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Jonny Evans and the da Silva twins. Darren Fletcher may again be forced to start at right back as he did at Upton Park, and after scoring three goals in his last two matches Darron Gibson (9/1 to score & United win), should also expect to be in the first XI in Germany.

This is arguably Wolfsburg’s biggest match ever and they will be hoping to improve on their recent form. They are currently eighth in the Bundesliga, eight points behind Bayer Leverkusen and although they produced an incredible second half of the season to win the title last season, they don’t look likely to challenge without Felix Magath in charge this campaign.

Consecutive 2-2 draws with Werder Bremen and Freiburg halted a run of two defeats, including the 2-1 loss at CSKA Moscow in their last Champions League outing. Wolfsburg haven’t won in over a month and will be relying on their feared strike force and playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic (18/5 to score & Wolfsburg win). Former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins is definitely out due to a calf injury.

Excluding last year’s final defeat in Rome, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have not lost in 14 away matches in the Champions League. United have also already beaten CSKA Moscow and Besiktas away in this group and are a tough nut to crack. Wolfsburg face a tough task and this is set to be an entertaining game after the German side impressed in the first match between the two sides which United won 2-1 after falling behind to a goal from Edin Dzeko.

101gg predicts: Wolfsburg 2 – Manchester United 2 (14/1)

Wolfsburg 5/4; Draw 9/4; Manchester United; 17/10

Full match odds here.