Distracted City likely to hand Shakhtar chances
In-form Bernard could be the man to capitalise for Pitmen
Champions League Group F
BT Sport ESPN, 7.45pm Wednesday
A Champions League tie that looks wide open is a rarity, but that certainly seems to be the case with Manchester City’s Group F farewell in Ukraine.
It’s relatively easy to make a case for any of the three outcomes at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, where temperatures are likely to be dipping below zero around kick-off.
Shakhtar have not lost in six ‘home’ ties against English clubs, have won both their home games thus far and are playing a team who are already into the knockout stages.
That City have already qualified means Pep Guardiola could send out his third team but he has decided to leave only one player back in Manchester, and we know how good the Premier League leaders can be when the mood takes them. Yet they’re a 15-8 chance.
And then there’s the draw, the result that Shakhtar need to ensure they finish second in the group while also, conveniently, guaranteeing that City’s unbeaten run, which stretches back to April, continues.
But if it’s easy to make cases for all three results, it’s not any harder making cases against them.
Shakhtar, for example, needed only a point in Napoli on matchday five but couldn’t get it and were blown away, losing 3-0, so why should we presume they manage it in this final outing?
Indeed, why should we presume that, given that nerves got the better of them in Naples, anxiety won’t curse them again?
But will City really be that bothered? Guardiola makes a big thing about his side’s winning run, which stands at 20 matches, and how he’d love to see it extended, but they’re off to Old Trafford on Sunday so the idea that he’ll go full-throttle with his best side in Ukraine is fanciful.
All in all, this seems a tricky fixture to assess. Shakhtar will be at full strength but the City players set to be summoned, the likes of Yaya Toure, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan, have all got a world-class pedigree and have statements to make.
It would be right to expect Shakhtar to score, maybe because they’ll have to if they fall behind, but also because City defensively can still be exposed. Over 2.5 goals and both teams to score looks likely. Shakhtar’s group games have produced an average of three goals per match, City’s 3.2.
Bernard to score first is also worth consideration. The Brazilian has bagged six in his last nine for the Pitmen and is playing with supreme confidence. He's great each-way value at 14-1 with bet365 if that price survives and would still be worth backing at the general mark of 15-2.
It’s hard to know quite what strength side Guardiola will field but the likes of Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden could get run-outs. The showdown with Manchester United has to be weighing on the Spaniard’s mind which is the real negative against the English side.
Bernard first goalscorer
1pt e-w 14-1 bet365
Dario Srna is suspended while another full-back, Bohdan Butko, is a doubt.
Kevin De Bruyne is suspended and David Silva has been left at home. John Stones and Benjamin Mendy are injured.
Shakhtar have not lost any of their six home ties against English clubs.
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