Match Preview: Manchester United vs Portsmouth

Manchester United v Portsmouth, Premier League, April 22, 2009

With “just” the quadruple still to play for, Manchester United can go a long way to putting their name on the Premier League title by beating the South Coasters on Wednesday night at Old Trafford.

Many, invigorated after Arsenal’s thrilling draw at Liverpool, will see this match as a foregone conclusion with Sir Alex’s side a shoe-in to return back to the top of the table. Pompey are rank outsiders, a massive 12/1 for the win tonight. And yet their are signs of encouragement for Paul Hart’s men.

It has been a tough season for the FA Cup holders. Under the constant speculation that the club will be sold, Harry Redknapp walked out on them early on in the season, and Tony Adams had little success in trying to steady the sinking ship. But since the unassuming arrival of Paul Hart to the hot seat, with ex-United Brian Kidd as his right-hand man, locals have been placated. Pompey have lost just one of eight league games under their new boss, including drawing their last three road trips at Hull, Boro and Stoke. (The draw at Old Trafford is priced at 9/2.)

And Pompey fans will be further encouraged by the knowledge that on their last trip to the Theatre of Dreams they walked away with the win, Sulley Muntari’s penalty knocking United out of the FA Cup just over 12 months ago. (A repeat scoreline is priced at 33/1.)

But that is where the good news stops for Pompey.

The setback of losing the FA Cup semi-final to Everton will be softened by the return of most of their key first-teamers, including Wayne Rooney (11/10 to score) and Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. Also due to return to action are Edwin van der Sar, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs. While, as we have stated in our “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” post (see below), we are backing Dimitar Berbatov to shake off the boo-boys by scoring tonight (the Bulgarian is 5/1 to be the first goalscorer).

Without their main creative spark, Nico Kranjcar has been forced out of contention with an ankle injury, Pompey’s best chance at getting something out of the game seems to be frustrate Sir Alex’s side and hope for a goal from a set-play. If they can hold out until halftime or longer, the atmosphere at Old Trafford could well turn sour and become hugely tense. Alternatively, an early goal for the hosts could see the floodgates open as United storm back to the top of the table.

101gg predicts: Manchester United 3 – Portsmouth 0 (7/1)

Full match odds here.