Still with the hope of finishing top of the pile, Manchester City round off their Champions League group campaign with a home clash against Borussia Monchengladbach.
It was a tight game for City in their last European outing away to Juventus, but unless the Italian champions lose away to bottom side Sevilla, the narrow 1-0 defeat in Turin appears to have made all the difference and they face another tricky last 16 assignment. All the same, it has still been a much more convincing Champions League campaign so far from Manuel Pellegrini’s men, who sealed their passage through with two games to spare.
But recent form is a worry. On Saturday they suffered their third defeat in five games in all competitions in being beaten comprehensively by Stoke City. It was a hugely disappointing performance all round which emphasised the absence of several key players, while the defence was so often left for dead by the silky, astute football from their opponents, who played them off the park in such eyecatching fashion. That result saw Man City slip to third in the Premier League, two points off the top.
On that evidence, something really has to be done about the back four, whose limitations are being badly exposed at present. For such an expensively assembled squad, it is hardly an excuse that City are missing captain Vincent Kompany, who albeit provides that much-needed organisation and leadership. In excess of £30m was paid for both Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi. It is now time for them to prove that they are worth such large amounts of money.
And they know that they are not in for an easy night against Monchengladbach, who caused them numerous problems when the sides met in Germany at the end of September. Only wonderful goalkeeping from Joe Hart kept City in it and gave them the chance to eventually come away with a vital win, so the hosts can expect to be tested significantly again here.
Led by manager Andre Schubert, Monchengladbach took time to settle in to their first appearance in the group stage of the Champions League, but have responded well with some impressive results against Juventus and Sevilla to leave themselves in the driving seat in the race to finish third and gain a second chance in the Europa League. The come into this one with confidence not just at Man City’s recent form, but having ended Bayern Munich’s unbeaten start in the Bundesliga on Saturday with a convincing 3-1 success.
Kompany remains out for Man City, while Yaya Toure, Fernando, Samir Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta are also unavailable. Sergio Aguero may recover from an ankle injury in time to play a part.