FRESH from a stunning Super Sunday, new signing Will Dyer (@W2Dyer) shares his verdict on Tuesday night’s Champions League action from Romania.
Steaua Bucharest v Manchester City | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport 2
The Champions League qualifying play-offs kick-off with the winner going through to the group-stage draw.
These two teams have never met before. It will be about 28 degrees when the game kicks-off tomorrow and that certainly works in the hosts’ favour.
Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Vincent Kompany miss out for the visitors. Pep Guardiola also leaves Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri, Eliaquim Mangala and Jason Denayer out of the travelling squad.
Toure’s absence doesn’t concern me at all. Of course the Ivorian can be a joy to watch in full swing but too often over the past few seasons he can be accused of being a passenger in games. It looks like he has no future at the club.
Willy Caballero came in for Joe Hart at the weekend. It will be interesting to see if Pep chooses to rotate them by competition or would prefer to drop Hart completely. If it’s the latter, I believe that to be a big mistake.
Hart has his flaws at times but I still consider him one of the best keepers in the Premier League and I don’t think Claudio Bravo, who’s been linked with City, would be a good transfer.
It’s important to have a keeper with leadership qualities especially with how injury prone Vincent Kompany has been. I don’t think Bravo ticks that box and removing an English player of the stature of Hart could alienate some fans.
Steaua are missing Lucian Filip and Mihai Pintilii but neither player is considered a crucial starter.
The capital club kicked-off their season in typically dominant fashion; they won five of their six friendlies and also kept clean sheets in five. Quite impressive considering they played Dinamo Zagreb away and tricky Russian and Belgian opponents, Charleroi and Krylya Sovetov Samara.
Including friendlies, Steaua are now 16 games unbeaten and have won their opening three matches of the Romanian Liga 1. Sparta Prague were dispatched 3-1 on aggregate in the previous qualifying round with Nicolae Stanciu scoring a brace at home in the 2-0 sealer.
Stanciu was fancied to impress for Romania at Euro 2016 but it never really came to fruition. He is however rumoured to be being monitored by Chelsea. This is the calibre of playmaker that Steaua possess. They are a technical side and will be no pushovers.
Man City did not kill Sunderland off at the weekend and after Jermain Defoe’s equaliser it almost came back to haunt them but for a late winner. That means it’s now eight games without a clean sheet for the Citizens and although Pep lauded John Stones I’m not about to be convinced.
Just nine days ago City lost 3-2 to an Arsenal side that we’ve all been ridiculing over the last 48 hours. City’s last eight games away from the Etihad have all failed to return a clean sheet.
With City likely to start Gael Clichy, John Stones, Alexander Kolarov and Bacary Sagna as a back four, I’m going to be siding with the hosts. I believe Stones could become a world class centre back, like most, but his season for Everton last year was not great.
Kolarov is no centre back, Sagna is ageing at 33 and after a long summer for France might not be at his best, whilst Clichy has never hit the heights expected of him since leaving Arsenal in 2011.
With this being a two-legged affair the pressure is not really on Man City yet, especially given the advantage of playing the second leg at home. It looks like they could take a while to adjust to Guardiola’s style and so I’m backing Steaua to score at 19/29 with Marathonbet.
Elsewhere, I fancy Raheem Sterling to continue to strive for his best form. The much-maligned England winger came in for a tonne of criticism at Euro 2016 but I believe he will excel under Guardiola.
Sterling attempted more dribbles than any other Premier League player on the weekend (9) and should cause Steaua problems. Sterling is still only 21 but has 28 European games under his belt and scored a couple memorable goals in this competition last season in Seville.
Raheem has the backing of Guardiola, whose cited that his staff will do their best to ‘help him to be the real Sterling’. He’s 9/4 to notch anytime with Skybet.
Steaua Bucharest v Manchester City – Steaua Bucharest to score (19/29 Marathonbet)
Steaua Bucharest v Manchester City – Raheem Sterling to score at anytime (9/4 SkyBet)