Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Manchester City (2-0-1, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)

Even without their most creative player, Manchester City have shown they have more than enough ways to find goals of late. The Citizens look to take a huge step in advancing out of Group F of the Champions League on Wednesday when they look to sweep their home-and-home set versus Shakhtar Donetsk.


After an initial stumble at home versus Lyon, City have regrouped with back-to-back wins to move atop the group with six points at the halfway point, one better than the French side. Pep Guardiola’s team also have a plus-3 goal difference, the best in Group F after swatting aside the Ukraine side 3-0 a fortnight ago.

That victory is part of a five-match run in all competitions that was extended Sunday with a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton. Raheem Sterling had two goals and two assists while Sergio Aguero chipped on a goal while helping on two others as City moved on quickly in response to losing winger Kevin De Bruyne for a prolonged period for the second time this season.

The Belgium international is expected to miss at least four weeks with a knee injury suffered late in City’s mid-week victory over Fulham in the Carabao Cup, but the front line more than picked up the slack as Leroy Sane made the most of his turn in the rotation with a goal and an assist.

About the only negative was City’s shutout streak in league play ending at 10 1/2 hours after Danny Ings converted a penalty on the half-hour for the Saints. City, who have scored 17 goals during their current win streak, have shipped just seven in 16 matches across all competitions. And ever the perfectionist, Guardiola saw plenty to pick apart from his side despite the lopsided win that moved them two points clear atop the table.

“Without the ball we conceded a lot.,” he said. “We conceded a lot of corners, free kicks and they have the best corner-taker in the Premier League,” he told the club’s official website. “It’s always dangerous, but of course I am so satisfied with the result and performance.

“At 3-1, they created problems for us. Their crosses were always dangerous, and we had problems controlling long balls. Scoring in the last minute of the first-half made it better for us in the second. Southampton, I felt, could score more. But at the same time, we also could have scored more goals.”

While most news between matches off the pitch revolves around who is and who isn’t starting each match for City, there is a fresh new round of controversy involving the club’s finances after leaked documents were part of a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. The documents showed that a substantial portion of sponsorship money — £59.5 million of an estimated £67.5 million — that was supposed to come from Etihad actually came from the club’s ownership group, which would be a violation of UEFA’s fair play principles.

While Europe’s football governing body has yet to offer a comment on the story, it is possible an investigation could be re-launched. City were fined approximately £17.5 million in 2014 for breaching FFP rules, and further leaked documents from that same article showed a secret agreement between current FIFA president and then-UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino which allowed City to avoid a Champions League ban.

The club released a statement last week reading “We will not be providing any comment on out of context materials purported to have been hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people. The attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear.”

City did field close to a full first-choice lineup versus Southampton, and Guardiola gave late run-outs to Vincent Kompany, Fabian Delph and Phil Foden. Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus were unused substitutes, and with the Manchester derby looming this weekend versus eternal rivals United, it would not be surprising to see Jesus leading the line like he did in the reverse fixture in search of his first goal in six matches.

In that 3-0 win over Donetsk, Guardiola did some experimenting as he used Nicolas Otamendi in central defence and let centre back John Stones play out wide on the right. With a chance to put a hammerlock on the group, Guardiola likely will play a more straightforward back four.

One other side note for this match has been the home support for Champions League matches by City supporters. Guardiola has been on record about wanting a more vocal backing at the Etihad, though City supporters have had a long-running antagonism against UEFA and boo the Champions League anthem that is played before kick-off.

Guardiola has seen the empty seats during group play both this term and last — City have averaged nearly 10,000 shy of a sellout in their 55,000-seat stadium in the last four home Champions League contests in group play — and noted before the reverse fixture to The Times that “still we don’t have that feeling, the feeling that the fans are pushing that we have to win the Champions League.”

City are also trying to avoid a dubious feat, as a loss would make them the first English side to lose four consecutive Champions League home contests. They lost what was essentially a dead second-leg rubber to Basel before their quarterfinal exit at the hands of Liverpool and lost to Lyon to open group play this term.

Shakhtar Donetsk continues to rule the Ukrainian Premier League and have won their three matches since losing at home to City. They are coming off a 2-1 victory over Dynamo Kyiv last weekend that extended their lead atop the table to eight points through 14 matches.

After conceding late in the first half to Mykola Shaparenko, Junior Moraes pulled Shakhtar level nine minutes after the interval against his former team and Viktor Kovalenko scored a 95th-minute winner against a 10-man Kyiv side in a testy match that saw nine yellow cards issued in total along with the double booking of defender Tomasz Kedziora three minutes before Kovalenko’s winner.

“All the players did well today,” the 22-year-old Kovalenko told the club’s official website. “In the scoring episode, I received the ball having the possibility to net one, and it worked, I reckon, just spectacularly. This may be one of my most beautiful goals for Shakhtar.”

Moraes has 11 goals in 13 matches across all competitions and seven in his last eight games. Marlos is second with six goals but is looking to end a five-match scoring drought.


Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites to break their duck at home and have 1/10 odds to claim all three points. Even a draw seems unlikely to oddsmakers at 17/2, while Shakhtar are 25/1 underdogs to pull off an upset that would turn the group into chaos.

City are also expected to pump a few goals past Andriy Pyatov, getting 2/5 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored. They are a 7/2 pick to win either 1-0 or 2-0, and a low-scoring draw checks in at 11/1. A 2-2 deadlock or higher is 28/1, while the Shakhtar longshots read as: 45/1 with a victory over 2.5 goals and 60/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.

Aguero leads a lengthy list of nine City players who are more likely to score the first goal of the match before top Shakhtar option Moraes at 14/1. Aguero is listed at 23/10 despite the strong likelihood he might not start, while potential replacement Jesus is the second choice at 13/5. Sterling and Mahrez are together at 7/2, with Leroy Sane lurking behind them at 9/2.

Aguero, Jesus, Sterling, and Mahrez are all better than even money to score during the course of the match, ranging from Aguero at 4/9 to Mahrez at 10/11. Sane is just off even money at 6/5, and both Silvas are better than 2/1 to score as Bernardo is 7/4 and David is 9/5. Moraes again is Shakhtar’s top option at 10/3. with Marlos second-best at 5/1.


What was supposed to be a straightforward match in which City all but assure themselves of advancing and overturn their rotation enough to have as many first-choice players available for the Manchester derby has turned into something much larger and perhaps more nefarious if the findings alleged in the Der Spiegel are true.

There may not be any short-term ramifications as City try to progress further than last year’s quarterfinal exit, but there could be very serious and lasting long-term repercussions for the club should Europe’s governing soccer body and even the English FA come down with punitive measures.

For Guardiola, the potential distraction of the article comes at the worst possible time with these two matches, more so for Sunday’s tilt versus United. For this match, however, it is a chance for Jesus and Mahrez to get themselves a good lather to be available for Sunday’s contest, and maybe give Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan a late run-out. Of course, Guardiola might go all guns blazing for this match as a response for the article, and create an insurmountable goal difference for the last two matches.

Shakhtar’s primary goal will be to limit the damage and potentially steal a late marker after the result is decided. That, however, would also be wildly optimistic considering City played their best match of the three in the Ukraine a fortnight ago and can now put them to the sword at home.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 5, Shakhtar Donetsk 0.


Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)
Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)

Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)

Juventus can wrap up first place in Group H of the Champions League with two matches to spare if they can complete a home-and-home sweep of Manchester United on Wednesday in Italy.


The Bianconeri have a 100 percent rate through the first three group matches and are five points clear of closest pursuers Manchester United (1-1-1), who are on four points and two ahead of Valencia for second.

Juventus took command of the group with a convincing 1-0 victory at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, riding a 17th-minute goal by Paulo Dybala as the Italian side controlled most of the match by subduing United’s offence and controlling possession for more than 60 percent of the match.

The victory started a current three-match win streak for Juve, who have yet to lose in 14 matches across all competitions (13-1-0) and are one of two unbeaten clubs left in the top five European leagues along with German side Borussia Dortmund. Technically, Chelsea have not lost a match but did begin their season with a loss to Manchester City in England’s traditional Community Shield opener.

Juventus remained six points clear of Inter Milan and Napoli in Serie A with a 3-1 victory over Cagliari on Saturday. Dybala opened the scoring just 43 seconds into the match, and after Juve allowed an equaliser, they were gifted an own goal by Cagliari midfielder Filip Bradaric in the 38th minute that restored their one-goal advantage.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who was honoured for scoring his 400th club goal in Europe before the match, set up Juan Cuadrado’s insurance marker on 87 minutes. While Ronaldo leads Juve in scoring with seven goals in all competitions — they have all come in Serie A matches — Dybala has done his damage in Champions League, where he has netted four of his six goals. Five of the Argentina’s last six shots that have been on target have ended in the back of the net.

“I’m happy we got all three points tonight and that’s all that matters,” Cuadrado told Juve’s official website. “We’re not setting any limits. We want to improve every with game. We know that’s what we have to do if we want to grow as a team.”

Juventus’ side Saturday looked fairly similar to the first XI who played at Old Trafford. There were three exceptions with left-side defenders Mehdi Benatia and Mattia De Sciglio starting in the place of Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro, while Douglas Costa started up front over Cuadrado, who entered Saturday’s match at halftime when Costa was sidelined with an adductor injury.

Another injury concern for Juve is midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who came off late over the weekend with a hip problem. Mario Mandzukic, who missed the match at Old Trafford with an ankle injury suffered right before the contest, is not likely to play, though he has been practicing.

Manchester United kicked off a hectic week heading into the international break by rallying for a 2-1 victory at Bournemouth to move into seventh place in the Premier League behind the Cherries on goal difference. Marcus Rashford was able to corral a cross from Paul Pogba just above the six-yard box and beat Asmir Begovic in the 92nd minute for the match-winner.

The victory, though hid a lot of blemishes for Jose Mourinho’s side, who were nearly run out of Dean Court in the first half-hour as Bournemouth set a torrid pace and took the lead inside the first quarter-hour. David De Gea, as he has done so many times already this season, kept the deficit manageable with some timely saves before Anthony Martial, continued his purple patch of scoring with an equaliser before the interval. It was his fourth goal in five matches across all competitions.

“It wasn’t just the start [that was bad], it was all of the first half. At half time, I thought I was the luckiest manager in the Premier League, to be at 1-1 in a half in which it should be 5-2 or 6-2 [to Bournemouth],” Mourinho said post-match. “We were really lucky because we were really poor. Defensively awful, absolutely awful, and when I say defensively, I don’t just look to my defenders but to the whole team as a team. We didn’t start pressing up, the work we did during the week. I felt like people watching this game don’t believe how hard we have worked this week, our pressure on this opponent in the first half was a disaster.

“Then, in the second half, it was exactly the opposite. We created a lot of chances, we pressed higher, with much more aggression, intensity and intention. We created lots of chances, we deserved to score before the 92nd minute. In the end, we got the goal which gave us the important points.”

Mourinho must choose among Martial, Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata among his attacking front three since Romelu Lukaku is not likely to be available for this match. The Belgium international, who was dropped from the starting XI in United’s win over Everton and has gone nine matches without a goal, was a late scratch at Bournemouth due to a muscle strain suffered in training.

Sanchez made his first start since United’s scoreless draw against Valencia more than a month ago. Mourinho’s high-pressure week concludes Sunday with the Manchester derby at the Etihad against reigning champions City, who are 10 points clear of United through 11 league matches.

Captain Nemanja Matic caused a stir ahead of the match when he announced he would continue to not wear the poppy, which was worn by Premier League teams last weekend and throughout this week ahead of Remembrance Sunday, which also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Matic, a native of Yugsolavia who did not wear the poppy in the victory at Bournemouth, said in a social media post the poppy “is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a frightened 12-year- old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999. I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride or offend anyone; however, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined.”


Per Ladbrokes, Juventus are decided favourites to retain their 100 percent record as they are installed as 4/7 favourites. Manchester United are 5/1 underdogs to win their second road match in group play. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 14/5, a result which would keep United on the inside track for second place in the group.

Juve have 8/5 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, but a 2-0 or 1-0 scoreline is not far off with 5/2 odds. A draw that finished with no goals or two has 18/5 odds, while a United victory on either side of the 2.5 threshold offers 10/1 odds.

Ronaldo leads the way for first-goal options at 3/1, narrowly ahead of reverse fixture scorer Dybala (4/1) and Mandzukic (4/1). All told, eight Juve players are listed before scanning down the toteboard to find Lukaku as the top United option at 9/1, but even he is below the “no goal-scorer” choice at 8/1.

Ronaldo is an almost even-money pick to bag a goal over the course of 90 minutes at 11/10, with Dybala (7/5) narrowly edging out Mandzukic (6/4) for second. Federico Bernardschi and Douglas Costa are 2/1 and 23/10, respectively, with Lukaku again United’s top option at 3/1. Rashford and Martial lag just behind the Belgian at 10/3 and 7/2, respectively.


After the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford, Mourinho pretty much conceded the group to Juventus, and as The Times reported, said “we knew when the draw was made that we’d be fighting Valencia for second place in the group.”

So even though United played one of their more impressive 45 minutes of the season at Bournemouth to overturn a deficit — though it came after a half-hour of insipid play — everyone knows what’s coming to Turin.

The bus. And not just any bus. It’s going to be one of those big, shiny double-deckers that England made famous as United look to strangle this match for a point before deciding if they have enough to try a smash-and-grab raid in the final quarter-hour if things go according to plan. In theory, this is not an unwise maneuver since Mourinho has seen his side play a full 90-minute match so few times this term.

Add in a lead striker in Lukaku who is both injured and currently ineffective, and you have the makings of a 4-3-3 that could very well morph into a 4-1-4-1 set-up in which Matic shields the back four and Sanchez will be left to his industry up front to try and find a moment of magic. It also means Juan Mata likely retains his spot on the right wing and Rashford comes off the bench, though Ander Herrera could be a lively insertion into the midfield with Pogba after a solid effort off the bench versus Bournemouth.

The biggest problem with this is Juventus have pace to burn on the flanks, whether it be right back Joao Cancelo bombing forward or Ronaldo using his still staggering straight-line speed to give defenders nightmares and twist Ashley Young into a pretzel. He and Dybala have a very underrated comprehension of playing off each other and are not locked into fix areas of space in the final third. That is how Dybala got his goal at Old Trafford, and without De Gea’s quality, there would have been more.

United are still a mess at times in front of De Gea, evidenced by the first half against Bournemouth. But this is also the type of match that makes Mourinho, well, Mourinho. There is a reason United have conceded just four times in their last 10 European away matches. And given they go right from one high-powered club in Juve to another in their eternal rivals City this weekend, the whiteboard and drilling for these two contests probably started at least a month ago.

Juve are likely going to have more than the 60 percent possession they enjoyed at Old Trafford, the issue is where United cede it to them. Lindelof and Smalling must be massive for this defence-first strategy to work, and too many times it has failed to deliver. The resiliency United have shown after getting punched in the mouth has been impressive, but one wonders if they have taken too many shots in recent weeks to recover from a haymaker from a quality foe.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Juventus 2, Manchester United 0.

Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)
Manchester City (2-0-1, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)

Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)

Liverpool have the opportunity to put themselves in prime position to advance from Group C of the Champions League on Tuesday if they can complete a home-and-home sweep of last-place Red Star Belgrade.


Liverpool are atop the group on six points through three matches and also have the joint-best goal difference with PSG at plus-4. The Reds are one point better than Napoli and two better than the French side after the first set of three matches and walloped Red Star 4-0 at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp’s team put 12 of their 22 shots on goal and limited Red Star to two shots for the match.

Domestically, however, Liverpool are coming off a 1-1 draw at Arsenal that dropped them two points back of front-running Manchester City. The Reds were unlucky to have a goal chalked off incorrectly for offsides, but James Milner gave them a chance for all three points by lashing a shot past Bernd Leno just after the hour, but Arsenal gained a split of the points eight minutes from time through Alexander Lacazette.

The biggest surprise among the players named for this match making the trip is the omission of in-form winger Xherdan Shaqiri. The Switzerland international and native of Kosovo caused a stir during the Swiss’ World Cup match against Serbia when he celebrated his goal by making a double eagle gesture, which is the national symbol for Kosovo.

Klopp opted to remove all potential for a distraction with Shaqiri’s presence, which would have undoubtedly riled what will likely be a very lively and partisan Rajko Mitic Stadium.

“We have heard and read the speculation and talk about what kind of reception Shaq would receive and although we have no idea what would happen, we want to go there and be focused 100 per cent on football and not have to think about anything else, that’s all,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website.

“We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid any distractions that would take focus away from a 90-minute-plus contest that is important for football and only football. So for that reason, Shaq is not involved and he accepts and understands this. Shaq is our player, we love him, and he will play for us a lot of times, but not on Tuesday.”

Two players who will return are centre back Dejan Lovren and midfielder Naby Keita. Keita has missed Liverpool’s last four matches with a hamstring injury while Lovren did not make the 18-man roster for the Arsenal match as Klopp opted to pair Virgil Van Dijk with Joe Gomez in central defence.

Liverpool, though, will again be without talisman and midfielder Jordan Henderson as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury as well.

While Red Star may be at the bottom of the group and suffering defensively after shipping 10 goals in the last two matches, their home form implies this will be a difficult task for Liverpool in prying all three points from the Serbian side. Red Star, who opened group play with a 0-0 draw versus Napoli, are unbeaten in their last 28 (23-5-0) at Rajko Mitic since a loss to Arsenal more than a year ago in Europa League group play.

“I said it after the first game, I saw it in that game – we were really good that night and if we would have been a little bit less good then immediately Red Star would have been in the game,” Klopp said. But, that night, we were really strong and that was good. We have to be very strong tomorrow again, football-wise.

“Atmosphere… we are from Liverpool so we know how big the influence can be. The only way I know to cool the atmosphere down is playing really good football. That’s what we have to try; to be ready for a fight and ready for a big game.

Domestically, Red Star have been imperious with just two dropped points from 15 matches and have won three on the trot since the loss at Anfield. They are coming off a 2-0 road victory over Novi Sad on Saturday. The hosts gifted Red Star a lead on nine minutes through an own goal by Aleksandar Andrejevic before Ben El Fardou Nabouhane put the game out of reach just before the hour.

While shipping just four goals at home this season, Red Star have posted just one clean sheet there in their last five league contests. Milan Pavkov and Richmond Boakeye share the team lead in league play with five goals. Nabouhane’s goal was his fourth in the Super Liga and team-best 10th in all competitions.

Though Red Star are decided underdogs for this match, manager Vladan Milojevic is hoping the side, with the support of the home crowd, can turn back the clock to their glory days of yesteryear to pull off a shock scoreline and muddle a group where no one has broken away.

“For the club, Belgrade, Serbia and the whole region tomorrow is an important occasion, and we are looking forward to a spectacle. We will try to make the best of the game,” Milojevic told a press conference.

“Liverpool are a favourite, no matter what. They are one of the main contenders to win the Champions League; the team is made to attack for the title. We need to be concentrated all the time, because every pause and the smallest little thing is immediately punished.”


Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are decisive favourites to claim a sweep of this home-and-home set, installed at 2/11 odds to claim all three points. Red Star are 16/1 longshots to pull off the shock verdict, and even a draw seems far-fetched with 11/2 odds.

Liverpool are again expected to put up goals, getting 4/6 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals in the match. The Reds also have 27/10 odds for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline to bring back to England. There are 7/1 odds on a draw with less than 2.5 goals, and a 2-2 draw has better odds (22/1) than a Red Star victory with more than 2.5 goals (28/1) and less than the 2.5 threshold (33/1).

Despite being on the road, Liverpool have the first nine options on the toteboard for first-goal selections. Mohamed Salah leads the way at 13/5, while Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge — who could get the start over Firmino — are 7/2. Speaking of Firmino, he and Divock Origi are paired together at 4/1, followed by a parade of Liverpool midfielders — Adam Lallana, Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Milner — all between 15/2 and 12/1. Boakye and Pavkov are Red Star’s top picks at 14/1, while Ben Nabouhane is third at 16/1.

Salah is better than even money to put one in the back of the net at 7/10, while Sturridge is even money. Firmino (6/5) and Origi (5/4) are just off that pace, with Milner an intriguing pick at 7/2 as Liverpool’s usual penalty taker. Boakye (7/2) is rated slightly higher than Ben Nabouhane and Pavkov, who are both 4/1 on getting one by Alisson.


While Liverpool get a break at the weekend with a Fulham side in horrid form, this is a contest that could prove tricky. The Reds are nearing the end of an exhausting stretch of matches that included two high-intensity league contests versus City and Arsenal around the first win over Red Star.

The decision to leave Shaqiri behind, in theory, should not make that much of a difference given the depth in attack Klopp has, but lineup selection could make this too clever by half. There has been talk of Firmino being dropped for Sturridge — the Brasil international has one goal in his last nine matches (though he nearly had one against Arsenal) — and could be in need of a break. Liverpool have looked slightly fatigued, and the international break is coming at an ideal time.

Red Star will likely come out aggressive in the first half-hour, but the challenge will come after that to maintain that energy the final hour. The Serbian side are obviously a different one at home than on the road, but the gulf in class was clearly evident in both the reverse fixture and at PSG where they shipped six. Expect more resiliency from Red Star, but ultimately, the same victor.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Red Star 0, Liverpool 2.


Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)
Manchester City (2-1-0, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)

Champions League Match Day 4 — Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1,-3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)

With their proverbial backs to the wall and without their No. 1 goalkeeper, Tottenham Hotspur look to keep their flickering Champions League hopes alive in a de facto elimination match in Group B on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium versus PSV Eindhoven.



Spurs have had a trying fortnight that started with their 2-2 draw at Philips Stadion that left both them and PSV teetering on the edge of elimination with three matches remaining. Barcelona are in command of the group with the maximum nine points, three better than Inter Milan, and both sides are rooting for the Catalan giants to complete a sweep of Nerazzuri that would give the winner of this match — provided they do not draw again — a lifeline to escaping the group as runners-up.

Tottenham, though, have a selection dilemma on their hands since No. 1 Hugo Lloris must serve his red card suspension for his challenge outside the penalty area on Hirving Lozano in the reverse fixture. Paulo Gazzaniga would appear to be the frontrunner consideirng he has won all four of his starts this season — two in the Premier League and two in the Carabao Cup after a 3-1 derby victory at West Ham United last week in the latter — but Mauricio Pochettino admitted Monday he has yet to land on a starter among Gazzaniga, Michel Vorm and Alfie Whiteman.

“We try to be fair in our selection,” Pochettino told the club’s official website. “We talk about form and performance and my decision is to choose the best player who is going to affect the team. In my mind, there is not a number one, two and three. Football is dynamic and things change a lot. We always try to be fair to them with our decisions.”

Vorm made three starts earlier this term when Lloris was sidelined with a thigh bruise and then dealt with the aftermath of his drink-driving arrest. The Netherlands international started Spurs’ Champions League play opener, a 2-1 loss at Inter Milan. Vorm suffered an injury in that contest, giving way to Gazzaniga for three matches before Lloris returned for the 4-2 home defeat to Barcelona.

The hangover from the draw in the Netherlands carried into league play, where the Lilywhites lost 1-0 to reigning champions and current table-toppers Manchester City on a ragged Wembley Stadium pitch that had been worn out due to a series of NFL games played there. Tottenham regrouped to a degree with the cup win over West Ham United then survived a nervy 20 minutes to record a 3-2 victory at Wolverhampton on Saturday.

Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura scored three minutes apart in the first half, and the match appeared done and dusted when Harry Kane followed up his own saved shot to lash one into the net for a three-goal lead on 62 minutes, but defender Juan Foyth lost the plot as he committed two fouls 10 minutes apart — movements that began with gaffes by right back Kieran Trippier — that Wolves converted from the spot.

Lloris made some key interceptions and interventions to preserve the three points as Tottenham remained five back of Manchester City, but Pochettino did note after the win the England international right back’s defensive play must improve.

“Of course Kieran needs to improve in the defensive situation, because in the last few games we have conceded a few actions,” the gaffer told The Times. “Like him, all the players need to improve in the defensive situation and be more aggressive. [Against] Barcelona, Manchester City and now, we concede very poor goals and that is a thing that we need to improve on. That is mentality, it’s belief that you can improve: it’s about will, not about quality. Quality is when you have the ball at your feet and you score a fantastic goal, or a great pass. But for me, in football, the key is when you don’t have the ball.”

Whether Pochettino is willing to sacrifice Trippier’s superb crossing ability with a more defensive-minded right back in Serge Aurier is yet to be determined, but in a match like this where Spurs not only need three points but a multiple-goal win to give themselves a fighting chance at overtaking Inter Milan, Tripper’s spot likely appears safe.

The good news for Spurs is most of their attacking options finally appear fully healthy. Dele Alli was held out of the Wolves match as a precaution, but after starting in the Carabao Cup victory, it would appear he is ready to re-join the fray. Heung-Min Son appeared as a substitute after a brace against West Ham and could be among the 18 for this match.

“We know what we have to do if we want to progress in this group and that’s win all of the games that we have coming up,” left back Ben Davies said at Monday’s news conference. “That’s our mindset. That’s been our mindset since the start but it hasn’t gone the way we’d have wanted. But that’s what we have to do from now on.”

PSV extended their perfect start in the Eredivisie, making it 11 wins in as many matches with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Vitesse on Saturday. It was the usual suspects teaming up for Eindhoven’s lone goal as Hirving Lozano set up Luuk de Jong’s winner in the 69th minute.

“We know how to score a goal but we have been made to work very hard for it. When Doekhi had been sent off, Vitesse defended stoutly  and we found it hard to break down their compact defence”, De Jong told the club’s official website. “That was a good cross and that’s the way I like to have them. I was in the right place to slot home.”

PSV coach Mark Van Bommel is expected to field almost the exact same starting XI from the first encounter between the teams. The most likely change will be at left wing, where Steve Berwijn is expected to get the nod over Danyell Malen after missing the first game through injury.

It was the ninth goal in 11 league matches for de Jong as PSV bounced back from a surprising second-round loss in the KNVB Cup to RKC Waalwijk 3-2 in extra time in which Mark Van Bommel overturned his entire side from their 2-1 win at FC Gronigen.

Eindhoven have not won an away match in Champions League group play since a 1-0 victory at CSKA Moscow in 2007, going 0-2-8. PSV, however, did win at BATE en route to reaching the group stage this term and also at Zulte Waregem in preliminary qualifying rounds in 2013.


Per Ladbrokes, the Lilywhites are overwhelming favourites to claim all three points at 4/11 odds, while PSV are 7/1 longshots to pull off a shock scoreline and keep their fleeting hopes of advancement alive. There are 4/1 odds on a draw that would all but mathematically eliminate both sides unless Inter win, which in that case, a draw would leave both teams playing for third place and a spot in the Europa League.

After a four-goal thriller in the Netherlands, it is not surprising a Tottenham victory with more than 2.5 goals would lead the way with 5/6 odds. A Spurs victory by a 1-0 or 2-0 count checks in with 18/5 odds. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has a 6/1 return, and a PSV victory with more than 2.5 goals gets 10/1 odds. A defensive Dutch road victory is the longest of longshot at 18/1, while another 2-2 draw or higher has 12/1 odds.

Kane leads the list for first-goal scorers at 9/4 odds, with a parade of Spurs teammates behind him. Fernando Llorente is 7/2, while Son has 5/1 odds, having picked up some momentum with his Carabao Cup brace. Moura and Lamela are 11/2 and 13/2, respectively, while playmakers Alli and Christian Eriksen are both 7/1 picks to make it 1-0. Unsurprisingly, Lozano and de Jong are the top options for PSV, both getting a listing of 8/1.

Kane is a staggering 8/15 to get a goal during this match, while Llorente is just worse than even money at 21/20. Son (7/5), Moura (8/5) and Lamela (19/10) are all better than 2/1 selections, which is where you can find Alli and Eriksen. Lozano and de Jong are again paired together for PSV’s top selections — weighing in at 23/10 — and PSV playmaker Gaston Pereiro has 7/2 odds to find the back of the net.


It was in some ways comical to see the absolute disdain Pochettino had over the final 20 minutes of Spurs’ win over Wolverhampton as he watched the match go from walkabout in the park at 3-0 to “(Bleep), we could actually drop points here” after Raul Jimenez calmly stroked his penalty to make it 3-2 with 12 minutes to play.

Yet Spurs persevered and got the three points, which were absolutely vital after their tetchy 1-0 loss to City in which both good Spurs and bad Spurs were on display. But for this match, Pochettino really has to release the hounds and go after a victory. That means the attacking rotation must include Alli, Son, Moura, Lamela and Eriksen behind Kane, and Trippier must play right back, warts and all on the defensive side of the moment.

The Wembley pitch will again be a concern, with UEFA actually dispatching an inspector before determining if PSV will be given the federation-allowed one hour of training on the grounds. Per Sky Sports, the Wembley grounds crew did not think the seven days between the match against City and this contest were enough for the pitch to be 100 percent recovered, but it would still expect to be much better than the condition for the City contest in which the middle appeared to have more dirt than grass, and the NFL yardage lines and league logo still clearly visible.

This is match where Spurs’ wide backs — Davies and Trippier — will have to play well given PSV’s pace on the flanks. They caused plenty of problems in the Netherlands, evidenced by their late fightback after Lloris was banished, and there must be a commitment to help Gazzaniga, who has acquitted himself well with wins in all four matches, including one via penalties.

The panic period for Spurs may have passed by them hanging on for a victory over Wolverhampton. Hopefully, Pochettino lets them play a fearless match because the only thing they control in this group at the moment are these 90 minutes.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 4, PSV 1.


Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)
Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)
Manchester City (2-0-1, 6, +3) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, -3)

Champions League Match Day 3 Preview — Liverpool (1-0-1, 3, 0) vs. Red Star Belgrade (0-1-1, 1, -5)

Liverpool look to strengthen their chances of progressing to the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year as they host Red Star Belgrade at Anfield on Wednesday night in a Group D clash.


The Reds are currently in second in the group, one point behind Napoli after splitting their first two group matches. Liverpool’s last Champions League contest earlier this month was arguably the worst match they played all season, a listless affair in Napoli that ended with a 1-0 defeat on a goal by Lorenzo Insigne in the 90th minute.

That loss was part of a brutal four-match gauntlet in which Liverpool played a pair of high-quality matches against Chelsea, getting dumped out of the Carabao Cup and salvaging a draw in league play, and a high-pressured scoreless draw at home versus reigning champions Manchester City.

The Merseysiders looked sluggish coming out of the international break, recording a 1-0 victory at Huddersfield Town on Saturday to stay level with City on points, albeit with an inferior goal difference, and central defender Virgil Van Dijk knows his side must improve to stay in the thick of things in Group D.

“We need to win every game. There is basically no other mindset,” the Dutch international told the club’s official website. “It’s another Champions League night at Anfield and I’m sure we will recover from Huddersfield and make sure we are ready.

“You are not going to dominate every game and play well every game but considering how we played it was a great result to keep a clean sheet. That’s all good but we could have done a bit better, perhaps made it easier for ourselves.”

Mohamed Salah accounted for the offence with a first-half goal, giving Liverpool supporters one less thing to worry about after ending a four-match scoreless drought with his first tally since Sept. 22. The Egypt international, though, is still a long ways off last season’s blistering pace in which he racked up 44 in all competitions. Salah has four goals thus far, all coming in league play.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be re-jiggering his midfield for this match since he will be without talisman Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita through injuries. That has allowed Fabinho to make his long-awaited first start for the Reds in this game, as the £40 million summer signing from Monaco has been brought along slowly — he made his first Liverpool appearance in the final minutes of their win over PSG in their Champions League opener, then his first start in the Carabao Cup loss to Chelsea, and then his Premier League debut Saturday versus Huddersfield Town as a substitute.

“He has all the qualities; hard challenges, good offensively, good defensively, quick, good shooter, fantastic set-pieces, good header – all these things,” Klopp said of Fabinho while saying the Brasil international can follow the same path left back Andy Robertson took in becoming an integral part of Liverpool.

“Strategic too, he is good strategically in the right moment. But it’s been a different system. We just play different and that always needs time. He’s just a fantastic addition and can improve us from a specific moment on.”

While Fabinho replaces Keita in the left side of the midfield in Klopp’s 4-3-3, James Milner will occupy Henderson’s spot in the middle of the park. One other expected change to Klopp’s first-choice XI is the introduction of Xherdan Shaqiri at right wing as Sadio Mane has just returned to practice after suffering a broken thumb on international duty. Putting Shaqiri — who assisted on Salah’s goal versus Huddersfield — on his preferred right side has moved Salah to the middle, and Roberto Firmino is likely to be on the left wing.

Liverpool have shipped only eight goals in their 12 matches in all competitions this season, but three have come in their two Champions League contests. They are unbeaten in their last nine Champions League contests at Anfield (6-3-0) and 17 overall in European play (12-5-0) since a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid in 2014.

Red Star Belgrade are the perceived weak link in Group D with Paris-Saint Germain and Napoli the other clubs in the group, and while they are in last place with one point, much of the non-pleasing aesthetics can be attributed to their 6-1 hammering at the hands of PSG in their last match earlier this month.

That heavy defeat prompted an inquiry into allegations of match-fixing, with reports originating from France newspaper L’Equipe that a Red Star official placed an $8 million bet for his side to lose by five goals. The club angrily hit out at the accusations when they were announced, releasing a statement that read: “Scandalised and disgusted, Red Star Belgrade rejects suspicions concerning the PSG-Red Star game and the implication of anyone from the club in any untoward dealings.”

The club, which won the 1992 European Cup and is making its first Champions League group stage appearance since winning that title in Bari, has not addressed the matter any further in their trip to Anfield, but it has clearly hit a nerve throughout Serbia, with even President Aleksander Vucic weighing in on the situation.

“I think that the greatest part of what they are talking about is not true,” he told reporters according to the Straits Times. The Serbian leader vowed to “examine every possibility of whether anyone and in any way could have tarnished the name of our club and our country.”

On the pitch, Red Star have won four on the bounce since their drubbing by PSG and are coming off a 3-1 victory over Rad Beograd in their first home match of October on Saturday. Richmond Bokaye had a brace on either side of halftime around a marker by Marko Gobeljic. The Serbian side have a stranglehold on the Super Liga, dropping just two points from their first 12 matches and are seven points clear.

Bokaye has a team-high five goals for Red Star, but there is balance throughout the squad as 11 players have scored at least two goals. Gobeljic, Mohamed Ben El Fardou, and Milan Pavkov have all chipped in three goals.


Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are the heavy choice to get their Champions League progra back on track with three points as they are 1/16 favourites. Even a draw would be considered a substanial upset at 14/1 odds, while Red Star are 45/1 longshots to pull off the shock scoreline and claim three points.

Equally impressive is the oddsmakers’ confidence in Liverpool to regain their bearings offensively as they have 2/7 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in the match. A 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline has 4/1 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-1 scoreline returns 16/1 odds. Putting down a fiver on Belgrade on any type of victory for laughs would see an incredible return — Red Star have 80/1 odds on a win with more than 2.5 goals and 100/1 odds for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. A draw of 2-2 or higher also has an impressive 45/1 listing.

Salah’s goal against Huddersfield Town over the weekend carried some favour with the oddsmakers, who made him the 21/10 favourite to open the scoring. Daniel Sturridge is at 3/1 odds, part of a staggering 13-deep lineup of Liverpool players who have better odds to give the hosts a 1-0 lead before finding Boakye on the toteboard at 20/1 for Belgrade, which puts him level with Van Dijk.

The any-time goal-scorers also feature a lengthy list of Liverpool players expected to score in this contest as six are listed better than even money: Salah (1/3), Sturridge (4/7), Firmino and Mane (4/5), and Divock Origi and Dominick Solanke (10/11). Shaqiri just misses out at 11/10, as does Adam Lallana (11/8). Boakye is again Red Star’s top option, this time at 9/2 to find the back of the net.


Klopp made an interesting analogy about the evolution of his side from high-powered offensive juggernaut to a more mature side that has sacrificed the glitz of an impressive scoreline on occasion to make sure they post a clean sheet.

“Last year our big strength was high pressing and when there were moments when they didn’t play football, it was like ‘sorry’,” said Klopp. “It’s like a dog – if you don’t give him his favourite toy and you throw something else he thinks: ‘No, I don’t want that, I want the other one.'”

Nowhere was that evolution more apparent than in their scoreless draw at home versus Manchester City. Yes, Liverpool were lef off the hook when Riyad Mahrez sent an 86th-minute penalty into orbit that could have also landed at Everton’s Goodison Park, but the Reds have taken multiple steps forward in shutting down opponents as opposed to simply outscoring them. There is a Plan B for the Reds when the gegenpress doesn’t create the desired results, and that continues to be the biggest takeaway from last summer’s loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

That and a much higher calibre keeper between the sticks in Alisson.

It may take some time for Liverpool to work through their gears in this contest with the new-look midfield pairing of Milner and Fabinho. Despite his limited minutes, his lone start came in the Carabao Cup match versus Chelsea, which was a contest played with a high degree of intensity considering it was an early round matchup in England’s third-tier cup tournament.

Also if interest is Salah playing through the middle. It got a dry run versus Huddersfield and was successful to a degree — after all, it was Shaqiri who sent Salah through for his goal. But this also has the look of a formation that can shift to a 4-4-2 given the Swiss star’s like of cutting in from the wing on the right. Firmino and Salah usually play narrow when Mane is on the pitch with them; Shaqiri’s preference to be on the wing will give both strikers the space to operate, but they must also find a balance in spacing when Shaqiri does go forward.

With all due respect to Red Star, this is a far cry from the 1973 squad that came to Liverpool and eliminated them from the European Cup with 2-1 victories in both legs. Their quality of play in those matches so exquisite that supporters in the Kop end applauded the visitors as they left the pitch. It was those chastening defeats that led to the resignation of Bill Shankly and an organisational re-boot for Liverpool that has led to the current ethos of the club, which includes playing the ball out of the back in central defence as opposed to those players simply shutting down the opponent.

There may be some flashes of that for Red Star, but they will likely see it thrown back at them more times than not through Liverpool’s spine of Alisson, Van Dijk and either Joe Gomez or Dejan Lovren depending on who Klopp opts to partner with his imposing Dutchman.

This should be a straightforward win for Liverpool, who likely will look to push the attack to make up some of the goal difference they currently have compared to PSG.



Manchester United (1-1-0) vs. Juventus (2-0-0)
Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-0) vs. Manchester City (1-0-1)
PSV Eindhoven (0-0-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-2)

Champions League Match Day 3 Preview — PSV Eindhoven (0-0-2, 0, -5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-2, 0, -3)

It’s put up or shut up time for Tottenham Hotspur, whose chances of progressing from Group B of the Champions League hinge on these next two matches against PSV Eindhoven, starting with Wednesday’s match at Philips Stadion versus the Dutch side.


Spurs are in third place in the group, ahead of PSV on goal difference, but that means little to both clubs since neither of them have a point while Barcelona and Inter Milan both have six. The north London side, which reached the knockout round last year, failed to keep up with Barcelona in their last group match earlier this month, falling 4-2 to the Catalans at Wembley Stadium, and manager Mauricio Pochettino knows nothing but three points will do.

“After defeats against Inter and Barcelona, for us, it’s a must-win game,” he told Tottenham’s official website. “If we want to be alive (in the competition) it’s so important to win. “We’re going to play a very good team, a team that is very offensive, a team first in their league. It will be tough, like always in the Champions League.

“Strategies are not important. Tactics are not important. I think about nothing but to be competitive and win because it’s three points we must win. It’s not a game that is going to give us another opportunity. We are ready to compete, we are ready to try to win and then it’s 90 minutes and we need to be better than them.”

Spurs are still dealing with a spate of injuries and will be without central defender Jan Vertonghen, left back Danny Rose and playmaker Dele Alli among their top XI. But the Lilywhites did get a boost when Denmark international Christian Eriksen made a late appearance in their 1-0 derby win at West Ham United last weekend after missing the last four matches through injury.

Either Eriksen or Heung-Min Son is expected to slot into Alli’s place on the left wing while leaving the middle to Erik Lamela, who continues to be in blistering form with four goals in his last six matches in all competitions after netting the winner against West Ham. Harry Kane leads Tottenham with six goals overall, his last coming in the loss to Barcelona.

Spurs’ Champions League form is in direct contrast to their current league form, where they have won four on the trot and recorded three consecutive clean sheets. History is clearly against Tottenham, as none of the 41 sides who failed to claim at least one point from their first two group matches dating back to 2003-04 have progressed to the knockout round.

“I think we can learn from what happened with Real Madrid last season in our group,” Spurs midfielder and England international Eric Dier told The Times, referring to how the reigning three-time champions battled their way through group play — claiming just one point versus Tottenham — before turning on the class to lift Ol’ Big Ears.

“I’m not saying we’re going to get out of the group and win the Champions League. Or that we are Real Madrid. But they had a very difficult time to get out of our group last year, and then they ended up going on to win it. “So I think the most important thing for us is to stay calm, to keep believing that it’s possible and try to win every game.”

PSV, who have not been out of the group stages since 2015-16 and made a group exit the following season in their most recent showing since this term, have been as dominant domestically in the Eredivisie as they have been overrun by Inter and Barca in continental play.

The Dutch side rolled up 10 goals without reply in their two matches since their 2-1 loss at home to Inter Milan in which they squandered a first-half lead and are coming off a 6-0 thrashing of Emmen on Saturday, ringing up season bests of 13 shots on goal and 29 overall. Gaston Pereiro and Luuk De Jong had first-half braces before Erick Gutierrez and Hirving Lozano added gloss to the scoreline in the final 11 minutes.

De Jong’s name is starting to be linked with higher-profile clubs thanks to his strong start in which he has totaled nine goals and three assists in all competitions. Lozano, the Mexico international, leads PSV with 10 markers, while Pereiro rounds out the Dutch attacking trident with eight goals to go with five assists.

Yet for all the offensive fireworks Eindhoven can supply, they know their only lifeline out of this group — whether it be either the knockout round or Europa League — is through better play defensively, and that means shutting down Kane.

“He is one of the best strikers in the world,” defender Angelino told the club’s official website. “But you will always meet good players in this competition. You only face tough tests in the UEFA Champions League. We have to earn victory. It would be great for our loyal fans.”

The teams have scant history head-to-head, meeting only in the round of 16 in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup. Each side posted a 1-0 road victory before PSV progressed on penalties at White Hart Lane. PSV are 4-2-3 at home against English clubs in Champions League play, with the last contest a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in 2015.

Tottenham, though, have a stellar track record in the Netherlands with five wins and one draw in seven all-time visits. Eriksen and centre back Toby Alderweireld have ties through PSV rivals Ajax, coming through the club’s developmental success before finding success in Europe. Alderweireld’s replacement in this contest, Colombia international Davinson Sanchez, helped Ajax reach the Europa League final in 2017.


Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are solid favourites to stay in contention to advance to the knockout round as they have 11/10 odds to grab all three points. PSV are 9/4 underdogs to hold serve at home in the first of the two matches between the sides, while a sharing of the points has 13/5 odds.

The Lilywhites have 2/1 odds to win with the match featuring more than 2.5 goals, and a low-scoring draw rates slightly better at 21/5 than a 1-0 or 2-0 Spurs victory (24/5). For the Dutch club, they have 15/4 odds to pull of a victory with more than 2.5 goals and are a 15/2 pick for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline.

Kane is the clear first-choice to be the first goal-scorer of the match at 14/5, followed by Fernando Llorente (9/2). PSV forwards de Jong and Lozano are teamed together at 11/2 to make it 1-0, while Spurs strikers Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son are paired at 7/1 for 0-1 scoreline choices. Despite his recent fine run of form, Lamela is an 8/1 longshot to open the scoring.

Kane is expected to score over the course of 90 minutes with 5/6 odds, with Llorente again second at 6/4. Lamela’s odds drop significantly to 5/2 to score for Spurs, just behind Son and Moura at 11/5. De Jong and Lozano are again PSV’s top options, this time at 17/10 to find the back of the net, with Gaston Pereiro also a 5/2 option for the Dutch club.


As Pochettino’s comments made clear, this contest is less about tactics and more about hunger and desperation for Spurs, who can ill-afford to be anything but ruthless in this match and next if they have any designs on catching either Barcelona or Inter. The London side are also likely rooting for the Catalans to stamp their superiority on this group in the other match to have a chance to reel Inter Milan back to them.

While Eindhoven have run riot domestically — as expected — with 36 goals, they have conceded just three in their 9-0-0 start in the Eredivisie, and keeper Jeroen Zoet has recorded five straight clean sheets domestically around the group defeats. While unfortunate to not come away with at least one point against Inter Milan, Marco Van Bommel’s side have every right to feel they can at least take one in this match and then have everything to play for in a fortnight at Wembley with similar hopes to Spurs the other results in Group B fall their way.

The “Spurs are tired” trope after a summer of inactivity and so many players participating in the World Cup will get no play from Van Bommel, who is an admirer of Pochettino’s ways and realises Tottenham have plenty of quality across the board even without three of their regualrs in Alli, Alderweireld and Rose. Two of those replacements — Lamela and Sanchez — will be in the spotlight at each end of the pitch, and while Eriksen may not be there at the start, he likely will be there at the finish to provide a potential swing vote.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: PSV 1, Tottenham Hotspur 3


Manchester United (1-1-0) vs. Juventus (2-0-0)
Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-0) vs. Manchester City (1-0-1)
Liverpool (1-0-1) vs. Red Star Belgrade (0-1-1)

Champions League Match Day 3 Preview — Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-0, 2, 0) vs. Manchester City (1-0-1, 3, 0)

Manchester City are hoping their weekend domestic form carries over to their Champions League midweek matchup at Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday in whicy could be a tricky Group F tie in the Ukraine.


City remained unbeaten and atop the Premier League on goal difference over Liverpool with an emphatic 5-0 thrashing of Burnley at home Saturday. Bernando Silva and Fernandinho broke open a close contest with goals two minutes apart early in the second half, and Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane added gloss to the scoreline with markers in the final seven minutes.

In addition to the three points, there was the welcome return of Kevin De Bruyne, who played for nearly a half-hour in his first action since City’s season-opening win over Arsenal. The Belgium international returned nearly a month ahead of his expected recovery timetable and had been sidelined with a knee injury suffered in practice in late August. De Bruyne had 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last season, and his creativity could be key in unlocking City’s offence in Champions League play.

For all the oohs and aahs City’s offence creates, it has been their defence that has shined. Guardiola’s side recorded their fifth consecutive clean sheet in Premier League play, and the spine of the defence had a late adjustment with John Stones playing right back after Kyle Walker was a late scratch due to a groin issue. Walker did travel with the team and is expected to play.

“I would say we have four incredible central defenders,” Guardiola told City’s official website. “When Nicolas Otamendi has played, and Vincent Kompany and John Stones, it is always a good level. That is a good sign for the team.

“It’s not possible to do what we did last season without Nico, but Aymeric Laporte didn’t have a World Cup so he arrived fresh in top condition and he has a left foot,” Guardiola added. “He helps us to make our build-up. When the ball comes from the right, he controls from the left. Playing with Leroy Sane, it’s quicker to play with the right foot in that position.

“It’s important to have central defenders on the left. He is fit and training every single day. He is professional – so serious – and playing at a good level. We trust [in him]a lot in this moment but the season is so long.”

As imperious as City’s defence have been in England — they have shipped a joint-league low three goals along with Liverpool — it has yet to translate in group play. The Citizens have allowed three goals in their two group matches, and there is still a residual sting following their 2-1 loss at home to Lyon three weeks ago that threw this group up for grabs.

“We are going to put in all effort to win this competition, but from what I saw last season we are not ready, that’s what I feel,” Guardiola told the BBC. “That doesn’t mean we are not going to try.

“It’s one important thing to win this kind of title, you have to be pushed – not just by the manager, by everyone surrounding Manchester City that we have to win it. And still we don’t have that feeling, the feeling that the fans are pushing that we have to win the Champions League.”

The match will also serve as a homecoming for midfielder Fernandinho, still a well-liked player among Shakhtar supporters after his eight seasons there before his move to City in 2013. There is mutual respect in both directions, with the 33-year-old so grateful for being allowed to move he reportedly waived £4 million in bonuses earned.

“I had a very good time there and still know a lot of people there,” the Brasil international said. “It’s nice because they open the door from Europe for Brasilian players and after that they have the chance to change their teams. It’s nice, the connection between the Ukrainian people and Brazilians.”

Shakhtar have played both Hoffenheim and Lyon to 2-2 draws in their first two Champions League matches but squandered a chance to help themselves greatly against the French side, frittering away Junior Moraes’ brace on either side of halftime by conceding in the 70th and 72nd minutes.

The Ukrainian side are unbeaten in their last 11 matches (8-3-0) in all competitions since a 1-0 loss at Dynamo Kyiv to open the season. The Pitmen overcame a red card to Olarenwaju Kayode to record a 1-0 victory over Desna, getting an 88th-minute goal from Maycon in a testy match that saw seven yellow cards given out in addition to Kayode’s ejection.

Shakhtar, though, will be without two of their starters for this match through injury — midfielders Taison and Marlos. Taison is a considerable blow considering he has a team-high five assists in league play and Marlos plays in the middle of the park in their 4-4-2 set-up. Manager Paulo Fonseca said his team will not deviate from that formation but will be facing their sternest challenge to date considering they have shipped just six goals in league play.

“We will not change the formation no matter what,” Fonseca said at his Monday news conference. “We will play with the same formation that we’ve been using almost from the very beginning of my work at Shakhtar. Taison and Marlos? Yes, we lost two, probably the most important elements of the team. Ismaily’s appearance is also in question. We will try to do with the people we have.”

Regardless of who is supplying the ball, Moraes has been a relentless goal-scorer, with 10 in 11 matches in league play in his first season with Shakhtar after moving from Dynamo in addition to his brace against Lyon. Including Europa League play, Moraes has 13 goals in 26 European matches.


Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are prohibitive favourites to return home with all three points at impressive 1/3 odds. There are 21/5 odds for them to get at least one point, while Shakhtar are 15/2 odds to get a shock result and throw the group into further chaos.

Oddsmakers are also expecting Man City to continue their goal-scoring binge from the weekend, with 8/11 odds on a Citizens win with more than 2.5 goals. There also are 19/5 odds on a City victory by a 1-0 or 2-0 count, and 13/2 odds for Donetsk to hold out defensively for a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. A victory by the Ukraine side with more than 2.5 goals returns 11/1 odds, and under the 2.5 threshold is 20/1.

Aguero leads a parade of five City players for first-goal options at 14/5 odds. Gabriel Jesus is second at 10/3, just ahead of a well-rested Raheem Sterling (4/1). Wingers Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane round out the top five at 9/2 and 5/1, respectively, to create a 0-1 scoreline. Shakhtar’s top choice is Junior Moraes at 15/2, even with Man City playmaker and just ahead of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva — all of whom are 9/1.

Aguero is better than even money odds to score over the course of 90 minutes at 8/11, as is Jesus (10/11). Sterling is just below that with a 21/20 listing, with Mahrez (13/10) edging out Sane (6/4) for fourth. Moraes again is the top choice for the hosts at 23/10, with Olarenwaju Kayode second with 3/1 odds.


Is this the match where City put together a full 90-minute Champions League effort? Because frankly, they need it to jump-start their chances to finish atop this group and avoid potential showdowns with the perennial European powers in the knockout round.

One decision that will be interesting to watch pan out was Guardiola leaving Sterling out of Saturday’s romp past Burnley. Considering Sterling had finally ended his goal-scoring drought at the international level for England during the break, it appeared — on the surface at least — to trot him out there at home versus the Clarets and see if he can add to it.

The flip side of that is Guardiola was going to find a way to get De Bruyne some run ahead of this match, which meant Sterling was expendable to a degree. It is not a certainty the Belgian playmaker will get the start for this contest, but the prospects of De Bruyne and David Silva on the wings trying all sorts of passes for Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane to latch onto is tantalising.

But Guardiola was also right to praise his defence after Saturday’s victory, to pump them up ahead of this contest given City’s curious struggles in group play. It is surprising after last season’s quarterfinal exit that they have shut off at times during their first two matches and paid a heavy price in each of them, the win over Hoffenheim notwithstanding.

Shakhtar may be playing to limit the damage without their two playmakers, but they still have a puncher’s chance at home with Moraes, who had scored five goals in his previous four games before being held off the scoresheet against Desna.

Nothing has come easy for City, and there is little reason to believe it will start after a journey of nearly 3,000 kilometres. But this will be a match where City should be able to impose their will through the midfield, especially with De Bruyne back, and return home with three points and perhaps the lead in the group.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Shakhtar Donetsk 0, Manchester City 2.


Manchester United (1-1-0) vs. Juventus (2-0-0)
PSV Eindhoven (0-0-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-2)
Liverpool (1-0-1) vs. Red Star Belgrade (0-1-1)