These are strange times for Manchester City. Despite two fairly routine wins in the Champions League, in domestic competition they have looked very average for most of this season. Their attack has been a joy to behold in the last few years, yet it all looks so stodgy at the moment.
After fashioning a whopping 3.7 clear-cut chances per match in 2019/20 – almost double the league average of 1.9 – they have had just nine in their opening five matches of this campaign. That’s the same total as Sheffield United, who are the joint-lowest scoring team in the Premier League. And despite the Blades’ poor start to the current campaign, they gave as good as they got on this front against Pep Guardiola’s side last season.
Although City won both games to nil – by two at home in late December, then by a single goal at Bramall Lane three weeks later – United had a total of four clear-cut chances across the 180 minutes, and only allowed four too.
And as we look ahead to their meeting on Saturday, it has to be noted that City’s away form in the league hasn’t been great since football resumed in June. They have won at Brighton, Watford and Wolves, but also drawn with Leeds and West Ham – while losing at Chelsea and Southampton. For most teams that record would be fine, but your boy Pep has mighty high standards.
With Liverpool visiting the Etihad next weekend, City could find themselves ahead of the champions with a game in hand if the next two league results for both clubs fall in their favour. But, this is the most important hurdle as it’s the first one, and the Citizens should be able to negotiate it easily enough.
Paddy is obviously expecting an exciting match, as the odds imply there’s roughly a two-in-three chance that the game will feature at least three goals. I’m not so sure about that though. While Sheffield United have lost 17 matches since they were promoted to the Premier League, they have only lost two of them by more than two goals. They were both away from home, and both to terrible teams: the Uniteds of Newcastle and Manchester.
As Liverpool have lost more games by at least three goals in that period, The Wilder Bunch must be doing something right. And as City only scored three times in 180 minutes against the Blades last season when they were great, they seem unlikely to batter them in this one.
Close games have been a theme of Sheffield United’s latest stay in the top flight. Just 13 of their 44 league matches since August 2019 have paid out on over 2.5 goals, the fewest in the Premier League in that period.
And this is in large part because at least one team in their games often draws a blank – it’s happened 26 times in little over a season. That’s despite them having just two 0-0s as well, with one of them thanks only to malfunctioning technology at Villa Park last season. As the Blades only have one non-penalty league goal in 2020/21, even City’s somewhat beleaguered defence should hold firm here, and ensure that the home team fails to score.
The visitors are also unlikely to score too many goals as they’re missing their two main strikers, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. As such it’s hard to know how Pep will set his side up in this match. New boy Ferran Torres played up front in midweek at Marseille and scored, so could retain his role for this game.
However, as he has only scored 10 goals in league and European football over the last three years, he can’t yet be relied upon as a safe bet in the goal scorer markets just yet. It seems reasonable to assume that Riyad Mahrez will feature heavily though, as he was only a late substitute in the Champions League, and only four City players have been in Pep’s starting XI for more league games this season.
The Algerian is also due a goal, having only scored one from the 20 shots he has had in all competitions in 2020/21. If he scores here, he’ll be level on 59 Premier League goals with Niall Quinn and Gianfranco Zola. What a front three that trio would have been.
* All odds correct at time of first publishing but may change. Prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widget.
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