After sleepwalking through the opening weeks of the season, does Manchester City’s win at Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday mean that Roberto Mancini’s side have finally woken up to the task at hand?
The Italian will certainly be hoping so. City, by their own lofty standards, have been poor so far this season and even if the victory at Craven Cottage was a huge improvement on what came before it – Mancini declared himself pleased with the performance for the first time this term – there is still a long way to go before the champions start playing like a team befitting that description.
Until Saturday, City had been sloppy in possession, wasteful in front of goal, strangely lethargic for the best team in England and, perhaps most surprisingly, a shambles defensively.
Alan Hansen was correct to highlight on Match of the Day the deterioration in Vincent Kompany’s form since the end of the last campaign (a rare bit of decent punditry on the show) although it doesn’t take a genius to work out something is wrong when City are yet to keep a clean sheet all season.
A four-point gap to Chelsea in the Premier League is retrievable over the course of a long season, but City have no such luxuries in the Champions League. Their Matchday 1 defeat to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, after leading 2-1 with five minutes left, was a bitter pill to swallow and has put a bit of extra pressure on Mancini as he attempts to make his mark on the competition for the first time.
Dutch champions Ajax and Wednesday’s opponents Borussia Dortmund complete a nightmare group and for the blue half of Manchester it is a vicious circle: until City’s coefficient improves they will be thrown into difficult groups, which in turn makes it harder for them to do well and improve their coefficient. It makes qualifying for the last 16 all the more vital and after a disappointing European campaign last year, all eyes will be on the manager as City attempt to venture into the unknown.
You can get 4/5 on the hosts when Dortmund visit the Etihad, with the German champions priced at 3/1 and the draw quoted as an 11/4 chance, and this is a match that Mancini needs to win.
City failed to get out of a group with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal last season and with this group looking even harder to successfully negotiate, Mancini has much to prove on the European stage. He has never been past the quarter-finals of this tournament – the principle reason he was sacked by Inter Milan – and his pedigree at the highest level is there to be questioned.
And make no mistake, Dortmund are a fine, fine side. Jurgen Klopp has masterminded back-to-back Bundesliga titles to become one of the hottest managerial properties in Europe and those successes were achieved with a brilliant, swashbuckling style that took Germany by storm.
Klopp, though, finds himself in a similar position to Mancini in that Dortmund’s first attempt at the Champions League last year was a huge disappointment and the sense of unfinished business burns at Westfalenstadion.
It makes this match vitally important. From a betting point of view, City look too short at 4/5 considering they are not at their best, but then again neither are Dortmund: Klopp’s men have won just two of the last five to trail Bayern Munich by seven points after six matches.
So I’m not tempted by the price on either and instead I’ll play the goals market with the 29/20 on over 3.5 goals looking like a decent option. There have been 24 goals in Dortmund’s six Bundesliga matches at an average of four a match, while there have been 20 goals in City’s league outings thus far at an average of 3.3 a match.
With both teams looking better going forward than they do defensively, I see goals and I like that 29/20 on there being at least four.
Recommended bet: Over 3.5 goals in Man City v Dortmund @ 29/20
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