Man City: DLWLW
Kick Off: 16/08/16, 19:45
TV: BT Sport 2
Manchester City make their Champions League play-off debut this week, with Romanian kingpins Steaua Bucharest their opponents.
When they could’ve just as easily pulled one of Porto, Roma or Villarreal from the hat, the Citizens will class this as a favourable tie and the bookies tend to agree, pricing them at 9/20 to take a first-leg advantage.
Their hosts can be backed at 23/4, with the draw at 13/4, while it’s just 7/100 that Pep Guardiola’s side advance over two legs.
It’s just the second time the decorated Spaniard enters this competition this early, but his involvement in this round is a solid omen for City – his Barcelona team claimed the 2008/09 title after felling Wisla Krakow 4-1 in a pre-group-stage duel.
Their slog against Sunderland last time out, however, suggests Guardiola might find the going a little tougher here.
City beat the Wearsiders 2-1, but relied on a late own goal by former Manchester United defender Paddy McNair in what was considered a fairly fortunate victory.
They had a staggering 76.9% possession too, but struggled to convert their dominance of the ball into a win against a team who set up with two defensive midfielders screening a deep rearguard.
Steaua would fare well replicating the strategy, though in reality they’d need some form of advantage to have any hope of surviving the second leg.
A decent home record against English outfits suggests they’re not without a chance of getting it though. The Romanian runners up have been beaten by just two Premier League foes on home turf, having entertained nine.
In the final Champions League qualifier, they’ve twice drawn over two legs, progressing from one tie and being knocked out in the other. Their most recent appearance at this stage yielded a 1-0 win at home to Ludogorets Razgrad, before the Bulgarians prevailed by the same scoreline in the second leg.
Their first outing saw spoils shared in the home leg too, with Legia Warsaw escaping the Romanian capital with a 1-1 draw.
Arsenal were the last English outfit to play away in their Champions League play-off first-leg – they drew 0-0 with Besiktas in that one.
Finally, in the aforementioned play-off tie that included Guardiola, his Barca side may have cruised through 4-1 on aggregate, but they conspired to lose the away leg of their tie by a goal to nil.
The combined force of these historical factors and how Sunderland frustrated them for long periods in their opening Premier League match suggests the Citizens might not have it as easy as the match-betting odds make out, rendering the 8/5 about the home team avoiding defeat in the double-chance stakes a potentially-valuable wager.
For those who think the visitors will pull through, backing them to prevail in a game that contains fewer than 2.5 goals looks the way to play. It’s available at 27/10.