Another season, another easy draw for Manchester City in the Champions League group stages. It has been at least four years since City were properly tested in the first round of Europe’s elite competition, and they certainly won’t be overly challenged this time around either.
Porto were by far and away the most attractive top seeds that City could have hoped for; the Portuguese side endured a gradual fall from grace throughout the 2010s and have little prospects of arresting that decline this season. Their recent European record shows that City have absolutely nothing to fear.
They managed to pick up just one point against Rangers in the group stages of last season’s Europa League before losing heavily to Bayer Leverkusen on aggregate in the first knockout round. Liverpool enjoyed successive five-goal aggregate victories against them in the Champions League in the two seasons prior to that and City could really rip them to shreds.
Pep Guardiola’s side have failed to ignite in the Premier League so far, but this is the perfect opportunity to get back amongst the goals ahead of a crucial phase in their league campaign and we’re on Man City (-2) on the handicap.
With all due respect to Sterling, this is the type of game that the English forward thrives in. Of his 20 Champions League goals with City, 14 have come in the group stages against teams of a similar calibre to Porto.
Sterling has finished as City’s top scorer in the group stages in two of their last three European campaigns and he has usually fared better at home, with 14 of his 20 Champions League goals coming at the Etihad. Looking past his glaring miss against Lyon in last season’s quarter-final, Sterling is a good finisher and seems to flourish when the pressure is off.
The pressure will definitely be off on Wednesday night and Sterling should be able to bag himself yet another group stage goal.
Given City’s recent defensive woes, it may seem like lunacy to back them to keep a clean sheet, but they have shored up their defence considerably in recent weeks with the return of Aymeric Laporte and the signing of Ruben Dias. Nathan Ake is also a capable defender and deputised well for Laporte against Arsenal when the French defender succumbed to injury yet again.
City actually seem capable of starting two competent centre-halves for the first time in a long time and should be able to shut out a far inferior Porto attack. The English side kept their first league clean sheet of the season against Arsenal on Saturday and would have kept a clean sheet against Leeds before the international break had it not been for a rare Ederson error.
In other words, City’s defence has improved markedly since the humiliation at home to Leicester and Porto’s chances of benefitting from a defensive lapse have been greatly diminished. The Portuguese managed to score just one goal in four games against Liverpool in their recent meetings, and that came when the tie was already totally wrapped up, so City should be targeting a first European clean sheet in eight games on Wednesday and Both Teams To Score? No.
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