Manchester City‘s Champions League campaign begins with the first leg of their play-off tie against Steaua Bucharest in the Romanian capital (7.45pm Tuesday, BT Sport 1).
Man City have to contest this two-legged encounter for a spot in the group stage of Europe’s primary continental club competition after only managing to finish fourth in the Premier League under former boss Manuel Pellegrini last term.
Pep Guardiola is now the man in charge after replacing the Chilean in the Etihad Stadium dugout this summer. The Man City fans are hoping that the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager will be able to return the Premier League title to their trophy cabinet and help take them to the next level in Europe. Indeed, while Pellegrini’s men did make it through to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2015/16, impressively beating Ligue 1 outfit Paris Saint-Germain in the last eight, the gap between them and Real Madrid – who overcame City in the semis far more comfortably than the 1-0 aggregate scoreline would suggest – was clear for all to see.
Guardiola’s reign in the northwest began with a narrow 2-1 victory over Sunderland in the top flight on Saturday. City, as expected, dominated possession and kept the ball well, although they did struggle to turn their territorial superiority into clear-cut chances, with the hosts’ two strikes coming from the penalty spot and via a Paddy McNair own goal.
One of the most intriguing features of that match was the positioning of full-backs Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy, who moved into central midfield when City had the ball. Rather than overlapping like the vast majority of full-backs in the modern game, the two City players underlapped by shifting infield. It will be interesting to see whether Guardiola employs such a tactic again on Tuesday night, when City’s place in the Champions League proper is on the line.
Steaua Bucharest secured a spot in the play-off stage of the tournament by defeating Sparta Prague 3-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round after finishing second in Romania’s Liga I in 2015/16. They are understandably rated as massive underdogs by the bookmakers for this clash and can be backed at 13/2, with Man City 4/9 to prevail and the draw at 7/2. The home team’s game plan is likely to be heavily based around sitting deep, trying to squeeze the space for City in the final third and hitting their illustrious opponents on the break. Nicolae Stanciu, the talented 23-year-old attacking midfielder who played for Romania at Euro 2016, is one to watch for the Ros-Albastrii.
Manchester City will again be without Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany, although Nicolas Otamendi could return after missing the Sunderland win with a knee problem. Joe Hart, who was left out of the Black Cats game despite being available for selection, is likely to start on the bench once more. Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is reportedly edging closer to sealing a move from the Camp Nou to the Etihad Stadium. Guardiola may be tempted to rest the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva with half an eye on Saturday’s trip to Stoke City, while Yaya Toure will be hoping to be involved after being left out of the match day squad at the weekend.
Our Preview’s Steaua Bucharest v Man City Betting Tips
Man City should prove too strong for Steaua Bucharest this midweek, with Guardiola likely to continue his 100 per cent winning record as the club’s manager. The Premier League side will probably have too much quality for their opponents – who have only taken part in the group stage of this competition once in the last seven years – and will be looking to establish a substantial advantage ahead of next week’s second leg at the Etihad. This preview reckons a 3-0 City triumph could therefore be the betting tip worth backing, with Raheem Sterling (pictured) a potentially astute option for anytime goalscorer.