2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)

Manchester City need just a draw in Wednesday’s Champions League finale to finish atop Group F, something that is not expected to be too demanding as they face group-bottom Hoffenheim 1899.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The reigning Premier League champions, though, are coming off their first loss in domestic play, a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Saturday that ended a 16-match unbeaten streak in all competitions (14-2-0). It was also just the second time Manchester City were held without a goal, the other coming in a scoreless draw at Anfield versus Liverpool.

Even playing without injured striker Sergio Aguero and still without top playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, City still looked the better side as Raheem Sterling was inserted between Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez as a false nine. Yet the Citizens were caught out on a counter over the top, finished by N’Golo Kante just before halftime, and they were consigned to a defeat when David Luiz added a second 12 minutes from time.

For all of City’s imperious displays this term, the loss also showed the fine line they are walking because the loss also dropped them behind Liverpool in the Premier League table.

“We still have a target against Hoffenheim to win the game and finish top,” Sane told City’s official website. “We want to finish first and hopefully look good for the Round of 16 draw – it’s important we win and end the group stage strongly.

“Even more so because we lost at Chelsea on Saturday and didn’t start the group stage very well.”

Though there is something at stake, City manager Pep Guardola is going to rotate a good portion of his side given the hectic December fixture list. Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho are both one yellow card from picking up a one-match ban that would rule them out of the first leg round of 16 tie, and while Aguero is in a similar predicament, Guardiola has ruled him out with his adductor injury.

The City boss, in fact, stated he has just 15 healthy senior players available for this match, also ruling out De Bruyne, David Silva and Danilo. Benjamin Mendy and backup keeper Claudio Bravo remain long-term absentees with injuries, which does limit some of Guardiola’s abilities to rotate his side.

“We have 15 players tomorrow it’s a really tough game,” he said at Tuesday’s news conference. “We are in next stage which is important but we have to try and win every game, to finish first. Last-16 is always tough but in general the next Monday when there is a draw it’s a success we are there and the team we will face will be tough.

“They (Hoffenheim) were incredible against Donetsk and they lost. It was incredible and fascinating to watch as a spectator. My admiration for Hoffenheim has increased. I knew about Julian Nagelsmann and his team but now I realise how tough tomorrow will be.”

While Guardiola is effusive in praise of his German counterpart, getting three points to have a chance of reaching the Europa League as third-place finishers in Group F remains a daunting task for Hoffenheim. The 12 goals they have shipped are better than only fellow Group F side Shakhtar Donetsk and both AEK and Red Star Belgrade.

“As an optimist, I can say that it’ll be difficult to get third place,” Nagelsmann said Tuesday. “We don’t have a lot to lose tomorrow, so we want to show the football that got us to the Champions League in the first place.”

Domestic play has not treated Die Kraichgauer much better of late as Hoffenheim have just one win from their last six matches overall (1-4-1) and are winless in their last four (0-3-1). Hoffenheim are coming off a 2-2 draw at Wolfsburg on Saturday as Andrej Kramaric salvaged a point with a goal in the 71st minute.

Kramaric had set up Ishak Belfodil in the fourth minute, but an own goal by Ermin Bicakcic and a strike from Daniel Ginczek four minutes apart left Hoffenheim down 2-1 after 32 minutes.

“I was very satisfied with the opening 20 minutes. We consciously gave up possession in order to have chances to counter,” Nagelsmann told his club’s official website. “We defended too aggressively before the equaliser. Thereafter, we did not get to grips with our pressing too well. During the interval we brought on another striker – we couldn’t get much more attacking than that.

We deserved to get the equaliser and dominated the second half. It was a fair result. The right commitment was there and I like that.”

Kramaric, who helped Croatia reach the World Cup final last summer, has a team-best 10 goals in all competitions and netted four in Champions League play. Joelinton has gone five matches without a goal for Hoffenheim since his brace versus Bayer Leverkusen on Nov. 3.

“Andrej Kramaric also plays in the number eight position and does that well,” Nagelsmann said. “He has a lot more to him than goals and assists. He is very critical of himself but his heart is in the right place”

Hoffenheim have never won a Champions League road match in three tries, though they did draw Shakhtar and Lyon earlier in this group. This will be their second trip to England, with the other result a 4-2 setback in a second-leg qualifying round match last year versus Liverpool.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, City are overwhelming favourites to cap group play on a winning note and enter this match as a 2/9 pick for a victory. Hoffenheim are 12/1 longshots to avoid going winless in group play, and there are 13/2 odds on the teams splitting the points, a result also acceptable for the reigning Premier League champs.

Given the open play of Hoffenheim coupled with City’s quality, oddsmakers are expecting a haul of goals as there are 3/10 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 5/2 odds for it being a low-scoring affair. The odds of both teams finding the back of the net are 4/6, with 11/10 odds on either side posting a clean sheet.

With Aguero out, Jesus has moved to the top of the board for first-goal scoring options at 3/1, followed by Sterling (9/2), Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1). With Guardiola’s expected rotation, some of the bottom players on the 25-man roster are seeing action, including Brahim Diaz (8/1) and Foden (11/1).

Bernardo Silva is also an 8/1 option to make it 1-0 for the hosts, while Ilkay Gundogan is 11/1 to do likewise. Kramaric and Joelinton are the top options for Hoffenheim at 14/1, just ahead of Belfodil (16/1) — who gave Die Kraichgauer a shock lead in the opening minute of the reverse fixture.

Jesus (8/15) and Sterling (10/11) lead the any-time goal-scoring options, with Mahrez checking in at even money. Sane is just off that pace at 5/4, followed by Diaz and Bernardo Silva at 7/4. Kramaric and Joelinton again are the top picks for the visitors with both being offered at 11/4.

PREDICTION

It is a shame Manchester City supporters have not fully warmed up to Champions League group matches at the Etihad because this has the potential to be a wild back-and-forth contest. There were two goals in the first eight minutes of the reverse fixture, which then calmed until David Silva’s 87th-minute winner.

It is admittedly difficult to figure out what exactly Guardiola is going to do with his back line. It could range from anywhere with Fabian Delph being shifted from left to right back to let Oleksander Zinchenko play left back to Otamendi playing in central defence or in central midfield ahead of a partnership of John Stones and Vincent Kompany.

Otamendi sitting on a potential yellow card ban is less than ideal, but if there is going to be one player between him and Fernandinho to sit out this match because of such a possiblity, Fernandinho is going to be the spectator. Additionally, Guardiola had been looking to give his central midfielder a rest ahead of the holiday fixtures, and this is as good a time as any.

Though a 4-3-3 is projected, it would not be surprising to see Guardiola use a 4-4-2 in which Jesus and Sterling are up front with Mahrez and Sane lying deeper behind the pair. Another possibility is a 4-1-4-1 with Jesus as the lone striker, which would allow Sterling to terrorise Hoffenheim’s back four with his pace.

Kramaric has been in exquisite form — his equaliser at Wolfsburg extended his goal-scoring streak to eight matches in all competitions for Hoffenheim. But not having centre back Kevin Vogt could prove problematic for a team that has often looked out of their depth in this tournament and need a win.

City could put this match out of its misery early with a pair of strikes in the first half-hour, though Hoffenheim are more than capable of finding a quick goal for the second time in as many matches between the sides. But in the end, it will be too much City, who will wrap up group honours with a win.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 4, Hoffenheim 1.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)

Even if Maurizio Sarri does not believe his Chelsea side can overtake Manchester City for the Premier League title, his side may be the last obstacle to the Citizens repeating as champions as the sides collide Saturday at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Though the Pensioners (9-4-2) are only 10 points adrift of City (13-2-0), it may as well be a chasm of 10 miles to Sarri, who wrote off his team’s chances after their 2-1 loss at Wolverhampton on Wednesday. Chelsea looked to be in control of the match after Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored on 18 minutes, but two goals by Wolves in rapid-fire fashion in the second half consigned the Blues to their second league loss in three contests and left Sarri at a loss for his team’s fragile psyche.

“We played very well for 55 minutes,” he said post-match. “After their first goal, that was an accident because we were in full control of the match, we were suddenly another team, without the right distances and without our football. I don’t know why.

“I am very worried, not with the result, but for the fact we didn’t react to the first goal of the opponent. We didn’t react at all. I worried about this.”

Sarri’s concession his side will not challenge for the title was not all together surprising considering he downplayed those hopes almost immediately upon his arrival, but to publicly confirm it while currently top four with 23 matches to play was still jarring. It also needs to be remembered he dealt with such a plight in Italy in charge of Napoli as they pushed and pushed Juventus in Serie A without ever finishing ahead of the Bianconeri.

“Manchester City are in another category. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four,” he continued. “The result is very difficult for this, because I know in every match you have to gain points. In the last championship in Italy I lost Serie A with 91 points, so I know very well you have to gain points in every match.

“City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world. They can win the Champions League, but that depends on moments.”

Sarri made five changes from the side who defeated Fulham last weekend, most notably holding out central midfielder Jorginho and centre back David Luiz. Both will likely be restored to the first XI, along with centre-forward Olivier Giroud and winger Pedro for Alvaro Morata and Willian, respectively.

With goals in his last two league matches, Loftus-Cheek could be in line for a second straight start over both Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic on the left side of the midfield in Chelsea’s 4-3-3.

Manchester City are completing their first run-through against the other “Big Six” teams and have taken 10 points from the previous four matches, with their only dropped points a scoreless draw at closest pursuers Liverpool. The Citizens have won seven on the bounce in league play since that deadlock at Anfield and survived a nervy finish in Tuesday’s 2-1 win at Watford.

Leroy Sane continued his torrid run as he and Riyad Mahrez scored City’s goals on either side of halftime, but the Hornets grabbed a late lifeline through Abdoulaye Doucoure after an error by Fabian Delph and pressed for an equaliser before time ran out.

“We started to lose balls and let them have the opportunity to come back,” City boss Pep Guardiola told the club’s official website. “And of course when they score with ten minutes left you suffer. In this league you have to score the third goal and we didn’t do that, that’s why we suffer.”

The suffering, though, has been at a minimum in league play as City are unbeaten in their last 21 (18-3-0) dating back to last term and they have trailed for all of 12 minutes this season. Additionally, their plus-38 goal difference through 15 matches is the largest in top-flight English football history since the 1892-93 Sunderland side amassed a plus-39.

Manchester City are also trying to become the first non-London side to win seven consecutive league matches in the capital. They currently share the mark of six with the 1950-51 Portsmouth side and are 7-1-0 in London since a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge on April 5, 2017.

Sane has five goals and four assists in his last six matches, making Mahrez the more likely of the two to be dropped with the expectation Raheem Sterling will return to the first XI. Gabriel Jesus, though, is likely to lead the line for a third straight contest as Sergio Aguero aggravated an adductor injury in training Monday and is doubtful to feature in this contest.

Guardiola also overturned his entire back line at Vicarage Road, though it would not be surprising if three of the four – wide backs Delph and Kyle Walker and centre back John Stones – retain their spots and are joined by Aymeric Laporte.

Manchester City did the double over Chelsea en route to the title last term, returning the favour the Pensioners performed in 2016-17 when they lifted the trophy.

Both matches last season were decided 1-0, with Kevin De Bruyne – missing for this match through injury – making the difference at Stamford Bridge while Guardiola outfoxed Sarri’s predecessor Antonio Conte by using a 3-2-2-3 set-up that kept Chelsea’s back three wide and neutralized their counterattacking possibilities.

City have won two of their last three trips to Stamford Bridge but are just 4-5-12 there in the Premier League era.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, oddsmakers are showing City an impressive amount of respect by installing them as 19/20 favourites to claim all three points. Chelsea are 3/1 underdogs to deal the Citizens their first loss, and there are 14/5 odds for the sides to split the points.

Oddsmakers are also expecting offensive fireworks unlike last season, with 4/6 odds posted on the teams clearing 2.5 goals compared to 6/5 odds for another 1-0 scoreline or less than 2.5 goals total. There are 4/7 odds for both teams to find at least one goal while there are 5/4 odds for at least one clean sheet.

Jesus gets top billing in the first goal-scorer category with 4/1 odds, followed by Hazard and his teammate Sterling at 6/1. Giroud and Mahrez are both 13/2 options, with Sane and Morata a peg back at 15/2. The Silvas are both 10/1 picks, edging out Willian (11/1), while his teammates Pedro and Victor Moses are 12/1 longshots to make it 1-0.

Jesus is also the overall favourite to put one in the back of the net at 11/10, again trailed by Hazard and Sterling — this time at 7/4. The players paired together for first-goal options are the same for one over 90 minutes — Giroud/Mahrez at 15/8, Morata/Sane 11/5, and the Silvas are 3/1. Willian follows at 10/3, with Pedro and Moses both listed at 15/4.

PREDICTION

There were 18 other occasions where it would have been perfectly acceptable to publicly write off your team’s title chances if you are Sarri, even with the caveat you have been downplaying expectations the moment you arrived at Stamford Bridge.

Doing so regarding the reigning title-holders ahead of a match against the reigning title-holders is a fascinatingly obtuse move by a man who has shown an increasing willingness to double-down on his stubbornness with regards to tactics and personnel.

It’s all well and good Sarri is not going to come out of his 4-3-3. It was that way at Napoli, it is this way at Chelsea, and it will continue to be this way as long as he is running the show. Fine, well, good. Then there is the issue of Kante, but even if he is using him in a sub-optimal way — and let’s face it, that’s what this is as the best defensive midfielder on the planet trying to find his moments to join the attack — he is talented enough to adjust, and is doing so from match to match.

The real question here is what does Guardiola have up his sleeve for this match? Last year, his 3-box-3 set-up completely flummoxed Conte, but different formation calls for different tactics, more so without two key pieces in Aguero and De Bruyne. There is no way Guardiola will keep Sterling out of the starting XI, though the Mahrez/Sane dynamic is interesting because Mahrez is the more creative player who can give Marcos Alonso and David Luiz fits on that left side.

For Chelsea, they need to fight for possession in this match, but it also would not be surprising to see City use the same kind of diamond set-up Tottenham did to put Jorginho on an island and make his passes cover longer distances. And like Spurs, City have more than enough pace up front as well as in the midfield with the Silvas and even potentially Ilkay Gundogan.

Chelsea appear to be of two minds at the moment, a side who really have not dealt with too much adversity throughout the term, but one who also appear to be losing that half-step of fluidity when that happens that throws a spanner into the works.

Lastly, Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has never been under siege for prolonged periods of time. How he fares in such situations will go a long way in determining just how top-four viable the Pensioners are.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 1, Manchester City 3.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 15 Preview — Watford (6-2-6) vs. Manchester City (12-2-0)

It took 45 minutes to shake off the post-Champions League hangover, but after that it was business as usual for Manchester City, who look to maintain their unbeaten status in the Premier League on Tuesday at Vicarage Road versus Watford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Citizens (12-2-0), coming off a 2-2 midweek draw at Lyon that secured their spot in the round of 16 for Europe’s top club tournament, were held to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday versus Bournemouth when the first-half whistle blew. Guardiola did not exactly light into his side at the interval, but the message was received as Raheem Sterling restored City’s lead before the hour and Ilkay Gundogan secured the win 11 minutes from time.

“We were flat but after, we were more aggressive and we changed the game. I asked them for more at half-time but my speech was ridiculous because in the first five or ten minutes, it didn’t work – it was the same as the first half,” Guardiola told City’s official website. “Raheem Sterling changed the game and Leroy Sane was fantastic too. What we have done in the Premier League is incredible and it means a lot to me.

“It’s not one or two games – it’s every day, every day, every day. Maybe today, we didn’t make a good performance for 90 minutes but 75 was good. It is a lesson we have to learn, how to win when we are tired. Maybe in the future, it is going to help us to do what we’re trying to do.”

Last weekend’s match started a run of six straight weeks with two matches, which means personnel rotation is pivotal. Guardiola made six changes from Wednesday’s starting XI as Bernardo Silva – who scored City’s first goal – and Ilkay Gundogan returned from injury.

Sergio Aguero was a spectator from the club boxes due to a “muscular disturbing,” and Guardiola will likely hold out the centre-forward for a second straight matches as a precautionary measure since “there are a lot of games and we don’t want to take risks of injuries. One month or a month-and-a-half loss with nine or ten games is too much.”

The goal City conceded was the first by an opposing forward in the run of play in league action. The reigning champions have yielded just six Premier League goals – one more than they have in five Champions League matches.

Watford (6-2-6) are in a difficult stretch of schedule and a tough patch of play at the moment, their winless streak reaching four (0-1-3) after a 2-0 loss at Leicester City on Saturday. This will be the third straight match against a top-eight side, a run that concludes on the weekend at Everton.

Keeper Ben Foster felled Jamie Vardy in the 11th minute, leading to a penalty the forward converted. James Maddison volleyed home a second before the half-hour, and the Hornets spent the rest of the match in an uphill slog where good build-ups were thwarted by a lack of cutting edge in the final third.

“It’s the same (as other away games),” said Gracia to Watford’s official website. “We need to be demanding. We need to improve these situations. You can see in the last games we are losing points, losing options to get better results because we are not efficient. When you score goals, you feel more comfortable and maybe you finish better. Maybe when you don’t score you lose confidences you need.”

Gracia has a huge selection headache on his hands thanks to a straight, late red card given to defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue for a two-footed challenge on Kelechi Iheanacho. Capoue, who had served a one-match ban versus Southampton for accumulating five yellow cards, would miss the next three matches unless Watford’s appeal is successful.

It remains to be seen if the FA will act quickly enough to overturn the ban for this match, but Gracia said the club will try.

“I spoke to Iheanacho and he said there was no contact by Capoue,” forward Isaac Success said. “I feel sorry for him because he has been one of our best players. Let’s see what the FA will do because it was never a red card.”

“I saw it clear because it was in front of me, but I prefer not to say anything, only what Iheanacho said,” Gracia added. “He said Capoue didn’t touch him. That is more important than what I can say. Yes, we will appeal. It doesn’t depend on me (what happens), but we are going to appeal. Someone spoke with him (Iheanacho) and told me (what he said).”

City have won eight on the bounce against Watford in all competitions, outscoring the Hornets 27-4 after the sides played to draws in both matches in 2006-07. Guardiola’s team have smashed home 11 goals without reply in their last two trips to Vicarage Road, including a 6-0 hiding last term as Aguero had three goals and an assist.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Coral, City are 1/4 favourites to at least maintain their two-point lead atop the table with a victory. The odds of Watford ending their eight-game losing streak to the Citizens with a draw are 5/1, while a shock Hornets victory that would mark City’s first league loss offers a 9/1 return.

There are 4/9 odds for there to be more than 2.5 goals, while oddsmakers have a 7/4 listing for fewer than that threshold. It is even money for there to be a clean sheet in at least one direction and 3/4 odds for both teams to find the back of the net.

For first-goal scorers, Aguero leads the line despite his questionable status for this game at 14/5, followed by Jesus (10/3) and Sterling (4/1). Mahrez and Sane are both 9/2, with David Silva lurking further back at 13/2. On the Watford side, Troy Deeney is the top option, albeit an overall longshot at 12/1. Success, Andre Gray and Gerard Delofeu are all 14/1 selections to make it 1-0 for the hosts.

Aguero and Jesus are both better than even-money odds to find the back of the net over the 90 minutes at 8/11 and 10/11, respectively. Sterling has 23/20 odds to score for the second straight match, and Sane and Mahrez are both 11/8 to tally. Silva has 15/8 odds to score, while Bernardo Silva and Gundogan have 14/5 odds to also make it goals in back-to-back matches. 

For the hosts, Deeney is 7/2, while the aforementioned trio of Success, Gray and Delofeu are all 4/1 picks. Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Okaka also join that 4/1 list, while Domingos Quina is another notch back at 5/1.

PREDICTION
One of the fun things for the month of December will be “Guess the City lineup.” While injured winger Kevin De Bruyne had odds listed in this match as a goal-scorer, Guardiola all but shot down that possibility as well as a potential return for the upcoming weekend clash at home versus Chelsea. 

In theory, Guardiola could overturn his entire back four for this match and use Delph, Stones, Kompany and Walker. He wants to get Fernandinho rest, and it would not be surprising to see it in this contest with Chelsea looming. How he does that is anyone’s guess, but Gundogan in the center role flanked by the Silvas would be one such possibility.

Regardless of who is up front, and Aguero will not be among them if reading between the lines of Guardiola is up front, there is still plenty of talent available. One potential player who could make the 18-man roster in addition to Phil Foden is Brahim Diaz, who had a brace in their Carabao Cup win over Fulham last month.

Things are somewhat bleak for Watford’s prospects to get a point from this match, let alone three, and worse if Capoue is unavailable to help command the midfield. The Hornets have also lacked scoring punch of late with one goal in their last four matches and none in the prior two.

Gracia’s bemoaning of the lack of precision in the final third does not bode well for this match since Watford will undoubtedly not have a substantial amount of possession, and what few chances they do create must be capitalised upon. If the Hornets are not careful, this match could get out of control quickly — they have conceded three goals in the opening half-hour of their last three matches.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Watford 0, Manchester City 3.

OTHER EPL Match Day 15 Previews:
Bournemouth (6-2-6) vs. Huddersfield Town (2-4-8)
Burnley (2-3-9) vs. Liverpool (11-3-0)
Wolverhampton (4-4-6) vs. Chelsea (9-4-1)
Manchester United (6-4-4) vs. Arsenal (9-3-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview — West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)

Pep Guardiola must find a new left back as Manchester City return from the international break minus Benjamin Mendy heading into their match Saturday at West Ham United against former manager Manuel Pellegrini.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(Editor’s Note — The expectation is for Gundogan to start for Bernardo Silva)

Mendy, who is tied for the team lead with five assists — which is also good for second in the Premier League – suffered a left knee injury that required surgery while on international duty with France in Nations League play. It is not the same knee that required reconstructive surgery last season, and Mendy is expected to be sidelined at least a month.

Luckily, the bottomless pockets of Manchester City (10-2-0) means Guardiola does not lack replacement options at the position. The top two options are Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko, both of whom have played there earlier this season when Mendy dealt with niggling injuries. Another option for Guardiola is to switch Danilo from right back, with the Brasil international fully healthy after suffering an ankle injury in the October international break.

Delph is likely the frontrunner for the spot, having captained the England side in their 3-0 victory over the United States in a friendly during the break.

“I have no doubts about Fabian. He was important for us last season and he will be again this season,” Guardiola told Man City’s official website earlier this term.

City maintained their unbeaten start with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at home before the break. While the Citizens moved 12 points clear of their eternal rivals by claiming the first Manchester derby, they have yet to create separation from the top of the table as fellow unbeatens Liverpool and Chelsea are two and four points back, respectively.

Sergio Aguero, who scored in the win over United and has netted eight of his team-high nine goals in league play, also has a pair of assists in the last two league contests and four overall. City have a Premier League-best 36 goals while conceding just five, matching Liverpool for the best mark in the top flight.

Like City, West Ham United (3-3-6) also have some issues with injured personnel at outside back. Ryan Fredericks, who limped off late in the Irons’ 1-1 draw at Huddersfield Town prior to the break, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a shin injury. Fredericks adds to a lengthy long-term injury list that already includes summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid, and Carlos Sanchez.

The good news for Pellegrini is he will have midfielder Jack Wilshere and forward Andy Carroll available after both missed lengthy spells due to injury. Midfielder Mark Noble also returns after serving a three-match ban for a direct red card, but fellow midfielder Robert Snodgrass must sit out this match due to a yellow card accumulation.

This will be Pellegrini’s first match against Manchester City following his awkward departure after the 2015-16 season. It was the Chilean who announced to the public the team had reached an agreement for Guardiola to replace him in late January, completely taking the edge off a City side who were challenging Leicester City for the Premier League title. While his Champions League semifinal appearance that season remains the club’s high-water mark Guardiola has yet to match, their exit at the hands of Real Madrid was so meek It caused chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak to level public criticism.

The Irons come out of the international break looking to push their league unbeaten streak to four matches. West Ham have settled since Pellegrini’s switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation with Declan Rice serving as a shield for the back four, and the Ireland international is thriving in the role Pellegrini has made for him.

“In this position, I also get to play and go forward with the ball,” he explained to the team’s official website. “I don’t try to over-complicate anything. I just play what I see, because once I started overcomplicating things and giving the ball away, there’s nothing worse than having to chase back for the ball so, when I get the ball, I just look to get my head up and give it.”

West Ham have taken four points in their first five matches against the “Big Six,” though the losses to Liverpool and Arsenal came as part of their 0-0-4 start that necessitated Pellegrini’s switch in formation.

Manchester City have won five on the trot in all competitions over West Ham United and posted a 4-1 victory in last season’s corresponding fixture. Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho scored goals, and ex-City defender Pablo Zabaleta contributed an own goal.

The Citizens are 8-5-7 at West Ham in the Premier League era in all competitions, but they have lost just two of the last 14 (8-4-2).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are 1/4 favourites to keep their hold atop the Premier League table for another match day and beat their former boss. The odds of the Irons claiming a point similar to how they did versus Chelsea are a healthy 24/5, while the chances of pulling off the shock scoreline of the season and handing City their first loss are 11/1.

City are expected to score goals coming out of the international break, with odds of a win and more than 2.5 goals scored at 4/6. A 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline offers a 13/4 return, with a low-scoring draw of 0-0 and 1-1 checks in at 7/1. For the Irons supporters, a victory regardless of goal total carries 16/1 odds.

Aguero, as expected, is the top option to open the scoring at London Stadium, getting 13/5 odds. He leads a line of City players that runs seven strong from Gabriel Jesus at 3/1 to David Silva at 7/1 as the pair bracket Raheem Sterling (4/1) and Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez (9/2). Marko Arnautovic is West Ham’s first listing at 17/2, while the sentimental can take Andy Carroll at 9/1 as the Irons striker is slated to make his season debut.

Aguero (4/6) and Jesus (3/4) are better than even money to put one past Lukasz Fabianski, with Sterling, Mahrez and Sane just off that standard at 11/10, 5/4 and 11/8, respectively. Carroll is again the pick of the West Ham litter for an any-time goal at 23/10, with Carroll and Chicharito a joint-second at 13/5.

PREDICTION

There is never a good time to catch Manchester City, but coming off an international break qualifies as one that could work to West Ham’s advantage as the Citizens work off the rust from the international break and go through their gears. There will be some intrigue to Pellegrini’s first match against City since that awkward parting of the ways, but that is more for West Ham players to use as motivation in contrast to the curiosity of how he will be received at the Etihad.

Mendy’s injury may result in a more focused defensive effort for Man City, though Delph has seamlessly contributed from the left back position when called upon previously. The injury to Bernardo Silva makes room for Ilkay Gundogan, who had a goal and an assist in 28 minutes of action off the bench in City’s two matches before the international break.

Such is the life of a big-money team that runs two deep at every position (except goalkeeper… maybe) where Guardiola can simply plug in quality pieces at every position

Marko Arnautovic will challenge Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, and then there is the possibility of seeing Carroll for the first time this season. What he can contribute is unknown, but all the same, the hope is he stays healthy for a prolonged period fo time to try and contribute.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, Manchester City 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)
Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

Firing on all cylinders and close to full health in attack, Manchester City look to regain their status atop the Premier League on Monday in a mouth-watering clash at Wembley Stadium against top-five side Tottenham Hotspur to close out Match Day 10.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

A victory by City (7-2-0) would put them back atop the table on goal difference over fellow unbeaten Liverpool, who thrashed Cardiff City 4-1 on Saturday. After a brief blip in form in their first two Champions League matches, Pep Guardiola’s team is coming off their best week of play this term as they tore through both Burnley domestically and Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe’s top club competition.

The Citizens followed up their 5-0 demolition of the Clarets by smashing another three without reply against the Ukraine side. David Silva and defender Aymeric Laporte scored five minutes apart in the first half before Bernardo Silva added the third on 70 minutes for City, who extended their shutout streak in all competitions to 359 minutes since an opening-minute marker by Hoffenheim’s Ishak Belfodil on Oct. 2.

Kevin De Bruyne made his first start of the season after appearing as a substitute against Burnley last weekend and provided the corner Laporte headed home for his first assist of the season. The Belgium international had 20 assists in all competitions last season, and with De Bruyne back in the fold, City have all of their best attacking players healthy and available to contribute, which has led to the most pleasant of headaches for Guardiola – choosing the best among them for his starting XI.

“All the players want to play good, play well and be part of the team,” Guardiola said at his Friday news conference. “We have a squad with huge quality and when they play they play good because if it doesn’t happen another one can play.”

Despite their fast start and status as defending Premier League champions after cruising to the title by 19 points over closest pursuers and eternal rivals Manchester United, Guardiola is under no such illusions his side will be able to repeat in a canter to lift the trophy, and he counts Spurs among those who will push his team.

“Two points difference in five, six teams. It’s strong. You see the line-up for Tottenham. Tottenham are always there,” Guardiola said. “They can’t invest because they build an incredible stadium but it’s a top side. Last season we did really well in both games, but they are a top team.

“When you know a team does the same thing, it’s easier to control it. They sometimes play Son with Dele Alli, they can change it. You have to be prepared for that. Tactically they are very well prepared. When we see their game at Inter in Champions League, they were not worse than opponent. I say they were better. But the competition is special. The numbers are the numbers.

“It’s one of the teams I like the most to watch, I learn when I see them.”

Guardiola is expected to restore both striker Sergio Aguero and right back Kyle Walker to his starting XI. He was able to rest Aguero against the weakest side in City’s Champions League group, and the ex-Spurs and current England international Walker had a late runout versus Shakhtar after missing the victory over Burnley with a groin injury. Leroy Sane could also return at right wing, though that would mean either Riyad Mahrez or Raheem Sterling would be coming off the bench.

Such is City’s depth that Guardiola was able to slot central defender John Stones into Walker’s spot the last two matches, though Stones is likely to resume his normal partnership with Laporte in City’s spine as they try to record a sixth consecutive clean sheet in league play. The Citizens have not conceded in 510 minutes since Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin beat Ederson in City’s 2-1 victory at the Etihad on Sept. 1.

Though Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) are just provisionally five points out of first place, the gap feels larger considering the apparent chasm in form at a truly elite level between the two sides. Their Champions League campaign appears to be over before it started, as a disheartening 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday left them with one point from their first three contests with three remaining.

The Lilywhites are in third in Group B, five points behind Inter Milan, and still must travel to leaders Barcelona. A red card to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 79th minute for his challenge outside the box on Hirving Lozano trying to protect a 2-1 lead proved costly as the Dutch side equalised through Luuk De Jong on 87 minutes.

Christian Eriksen was a key contributor offensively in his first start in five matches due to a hamstring injury and assisted on Harry Kane’s goal that gave Spurs a 2-1 lead, but the Denmark international also made a poor back pass that forced Lloris to make the challenge that got him sent off.

“If you watch the game we should have won, there is no other conclusion,” Eriksen dejectedly told the club’s official website. “We should have finished the game off. “We didn’t do that and PSV had the chance to come back. I gave a bad pass away, Hugo was sent off but again, if we finish the game off, we don’t have that at the end. We could have done better.”

The red card does not carry over to domestic competition, so Lloris is expected be between the sticks for this contest. Spurs, though, will get a boost in attack with the likely availability of winger Dele Alli, who has missed the last five matches in all competitions with a hamstring injury.

“We have to be careful with Dele because he was re-injured after Watford (Carabao Cup). Of course he’s okay, he’s training, but we’ll see what happens in the next few days,” manager Mauricio Pochettino told SpursTV on Friday. “We are happy that he’s started (training) today with the group and we hope he’s available for Monday but I’m not sure if we are going to put him in the squad or not.

“Dele is Dele, we all know he’s an important player for us but when he’s injured, we cannot complain because we have the squad. For me, the most important thing is the collective and it’s always important to have everyone available.”

Tottenham are still without half of their back line as central defender Jan Vertonghen and left back Danny Rose are out through injury. If Alli does not return to Pochettino’s first XI, the left wing spot will either go to Erik Lamela or Heung-Min Son in Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 set-up. Lamela has been in fine form with four goals and an assist in his last six matches across all competitions.

Despite their continental struggles, Spurs have won four on the bounce in league play and recorded clean sheets in the last three. The last goal they conceded came in second-half stoppage time in their 2-1 win at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sept. 22.

City did the double over Spurs last season en route to the title, recording wins of 4-1 and 3-1. In the game at Wembley, the match swung on a penalty call in City’s favour by Jon Moss that would have been overturned had there been VAR. But three minutes after Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring, Ilkay Gundogan doubled the lead on 25 minutes, and the Citizens were on their way to victory, secured by Sterling’s late strike after Eriksen made a match of it with a goal.

Manchester City are 10-2-4 in their last 16 matchups with Spurs, who had gone 3-1-0 in the previous four meetings before last term’s two setbacks.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are solid favourites to return to the top of the table with 7/10 odds to claim all three points. There are 29/10 odds on the teams sharing the points, while Spurs have 18/5 odds on dealing Guardiola’s side their first loss and adding some drama to the title race.

A Manchester City win in a match featuring more than 2.5 goals leads the way with 27/20 odds, while an 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline in their favour has 4/1 odds. A low-scoring draw offers 9/2 odds, while a Spurs victory with 2.5 goals checks in at 11/2. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory for the hosts is a 10/1 longshot.

Aguero is the leader of the pack for first-goal honours at 16/5, followed by strike partner Gabriel Jesus (4/1). Kane is the only Spurs option among the first six players listed at 9/2, with Sterling (5/1), Mahrez (11/2) and Sane (6/1) forming an ordely queue behind the England talisman.

Aguero is even money to find the back of the net over the course of 90 minutes, with Jesus (5/4) and Kane (7/5) again lurking just behind him. Sterling checks in with 6/4 odds, while the in-form Lamela could fetch a decent return at 4/1. The Silvas — first David (14/5) the Bernardo (16/5) bracket De Bruyne (3/1).

PREDICTION

To borrow a phrase from Emperor Palpatine in “Return of the Jedi,” Manchester City’s attack is indeed “quite operational” with the return of De Bruyne. This space will sing his praises until hoarse, not just because he is so good, but it is because he has the vision to dream. He and David Silva are two wildly creative sides of the same coin with their playmaking and ingenuity.

Yet for all that offence and all those goals, City’s defence has shined for pretty much the enitre month. It helps when you limit the opponent to 25 percent possession, but the other truth is that the back three or four — depending on personnel and Guardiola’s preference — have evolved into a unit as lethal as his attacking four, with Fernandinho their protector while the offence pulls opposing defences apart the way a puppetmaster pulls the strings of a marionette.

About the only thing City can arguably get wrong is personnel selection up front. That Guardiola addressed it this week was somewhat surprising given how easy a time he had — dispatching of Burnley and Shakhtar without hitting top gear. After Mahrez’s missed penalty at Anfield that may still be in orbit, he seems the most likely candidate to be dropped because it is a “big match,” but there’s always a “yeah, it kind of makes sense” once you get over the surprise of which big name is left out of Guardiola’s first XI.

Tottenham, on the other hand, are in a dangerous place heading into this match, because if the hangover from the draw at Eindhoven has not worn off, City will run them right out of Wembley, and that five-point gap between the sides that will result may as well be 50. The hedge here is Alli will be on the bench to start this game, with Lamela getting the nod over him and Son on the left wing since he only appeared as a substitute mid-week.

The choice of Lamela over Son is one for Pochettino to deliberate, but in a match against a team like City in which you know you are not going to see much of the ball, the impetus should be on the moment of creativity — something Lamela has in droves — compared to the industry — which Son has in equal droves — which could go frustratingly unrewarded in a match such as this.

Lloris is another figure who bears scrutinising. It has been a year of wildly fluctuating fortunes for the France No. 1, from winning the World Cup to the anguish of his drink-driving charge to still being considered among the elite keepers in the Premier League to his latest walkabout adventures on the pitch in the Netherlands. Some have spent the past week comparing the maddening similarities he shares with France’s other World Cup winning keeper — Fabien Barthez — but more times than not, Lloris has been the one to save Spurs from their blushes.

This Spurs team is almost a photo negative of the one from last term that had so much fun playing Champions League football because there was nothing to lose domestically because City were so imperious. This game and this moment, however, matter greatly for the Lilywhites and could be the bellwether for the rest of Tottenham’s season.

Win this game, or even split the points, and there’s a bonafide Premier League title race. Lose this game, the pressure intensifies ahead of the reverse Champions League fixture versus Eindhoven before the international break, and then have a derby match versus Chelsea after it.

At this moment, it feels City are just too irresistible, even with the knowing step up in class Tottenham are after last week’s two impressive yet lightly challenging wins. There are gears Spurs have hit only in brief flashes this season, and it does not look like they will be able to hold them long enough in this encounter to get what they need.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 0, Manchester City 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)

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.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

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.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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.

PREDICTION

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.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

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)

Champions League Match Day 2 Preview — Hoffenheim 1899 (0-1-0, 0, 2-2) vs. Manchester City (0-0-1, -1, 1-2)

Jolted back to reality after their shocking home loss to Lyon a fortnight ago to open Champions League group play, a relatively well-rested Manchester City side look to make things right and get back into the thick of the Group F race Tuesday when they face Bavarian side Hoffenheim 1899.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After many pundits figured City would walk through a group that featured relatively unassuming opponents in the French side, Ukraine club Shakhtar Donetsk and Hoffenehim, Lyon turned all those projections upside down with a 2-1 victory at the Etihad.

The defeat left the Citizens looking up at the rest of the group while Guardiola looked on from the stands that day, serving his one-match touchline ban for his dismissal in the second leg of last season’s quarterfinal loss to Liverpool.

“We have five finals ahead in the group stages,” Guardiola said at his Monday news conference in Germany. “In the Champions League, we don’t have time to lose a lot of games. Tomorrow is the first final.

“We need to review the game against Lyon. Maybe in the first half, we were not like we normally are. It’s the Champions League so all of the teams are good. I give credit to the opponents.”

English opponents bore the brunt of City’s frustration in the interim as the reigning Premier League champions scored 10 goals without reply in league victories over lightweights Cardiff City and Brighton and Hove Albion around an easy Carabao Cup triumph over League Two side Oxford United.

Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero scored the goals for Manchester City in their 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, but the bigger surprise was Leroy Sane cracking the starting XI and creating all sorts of havoc on the left flank. The surprise omission from the Germany World Cup squad set up Sterling’s goal just before the half-hour with a lovely cross that Sterling needed only to tap home from the doorstep to open the scoring.

There are some concerns about Aguero’s availability since the Argentina international was lifted in the second half as a precaution due to a knock. Oleksander Zinchenko is expected to complete a rare treble of playing in the Carabao Cup, Premier League and Champions League in successive matches as the left backs ahead of him on the depth chart — Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph — were not included on City’s traveling roster.

Central defenders John Stones and Vincent Kompany should be well-rested after being held out of the win over Brighton. Sane will likely return to the bench, with Riyad Mahrez expected to be restored on the left wing as City look to start moving beyond a Champions League stretch that has seen them win just one of their last six matches in continental play.

Hoffenheim are off to an uneven start in the Bundesliga, currently in 12th place with seven points through six matches while scoring and conceding 10 goals. Die Kraichgauer had a three-match winning streak in all competitions end over the weekend with a 2-1 loss at home to RB Leipzig.

The match had an interesting side angle since it was played between manager Julian Nagelsmann’s current team and the one the 31-year-old will take over in the 1919-20 season after accepting the job in June. Andrej Kramaric helped Hoffenheim avoid a shutout with a stoppage-time penalty after Youssef Poulsen struck for a second-half brace for the visitors.

“I can live with the result reasonably because of the second half,” Nagelmann told Heidelberg24. “But I think we had the better and clearer chances, so a draw would have been definitely worth it.”

Defender and talisman Kevin Vogt is not expected to play after sitting out Sunday’s defeat due to injury, but Nagelmann is optimistic his team’s play in the second half in terms of creating chances offensively will bode well for Hoffenheim in this contest.

“Kevin Vogt thought he might have been okay after the game on Saturday, but the doctor took a lot of fluid out of the muscle and he’s out,”  Nagelsmann told AFP.

This will be just Hoffenheim’s third match at home this term, having beaten FC Freiburg 3-1 on Sept. 1 and playing Borussia Dortmund to a 1-1 draw on Sept. 22. Joelinton and Adam Szalai have combined for seven goals across all competitions, with the target forward and Hungary international Szalai looking to end a seven-match goalless drought since a brace against Freiburg.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are solid 1/3 favourites to level their record and return to England with three points. The odds of a draw at 17/4 are slightly better than Hoffenheim protecting its home pitch and taking all three points at 13/2.

Oddsmakers are also counting on goals to be scored as a City victory with more than 2.5 goals is a runaway favourite with 7/10 odds. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory for the visitors returns 4/1 odds, while a draw under 2.5 goals is at 7/1. The odds of a 2-2 draw and higher or Hoffenheim victory over 2.5 goals are 11/1, while a defensive stalemate in which the German side wins is a distant 22/1 longshot.

Aguero leads the line for first-goal choices at 14/5, slightly better than teammate Gabriel Jesus (16/5). Sterling rounds out the top three at 7/2, followed by fellow City attacking players Mahrez (9/2) and Sane (5/1). One has to scroll down to ninth to find the first Hoffenheim options, which are Kramaric and Joelinton at 10/1.

Aguero, Jesus, and Sterling are all better than even money odds to find the back of the net, with odds of 4/6, 5/6, and 19/20, respectively. Mahrez edges out Sane for third at 13/10, just ahead of the German who is 7/5. On the Hoffenheim side, Kramaric edges out Joelinton as the top choice, with the Croatian getting 11/4 odds compared to Joelinton’s 13/5.

PREDICTION

Beyond working out the frustration of their surprising loss to Lyon, that defeat can also be chalked up to as much as Guardiola not being on the touch line for that match as much as it was Lyon playing above themselves and keeping City well-contained. But this should be a bounce-back match for Guardiola, returning to a country where he enjoyed his time while at Bayern Munich and winning everything but the Champions League.

It will be interesting to see if Guardiola rewards Sane with a second straight start at the expense of Mahrez after his impressive performance against Brighton. The Germany international brings a wealth of pace, though Mahrez’s playmaking skills may be the better option to set up Sterling and Aguero in a three-quarters role on his favoured left side.

This is not exactly a free shot for Hoffenheim despite getting a draw in their group opener at Shakhtar Donetsk, but a loss is not going to be the end of the world in terms of advancement hopes. The German side have yet to record a clean sheet in any match this term, and not having Vogt in the centre of the back line as he continues to be sidelined with a thigh injury is a huge blow.

City would like to get Aguero going. The South American striker has seven goals in 10 Champions League matches against German teams, but six of them have come in two home matches — in 2014 versus Bayern Munich and in 2016 versus Borussia Monchengladbach. Aguero likely will not need a hat trick for a City victory in this match, but a brace would most assuredly see them through for three points.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Hoffenheim 0, MANCHESTER CITY 2

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (1-0-0) vs. Valencia (0-0-1)