Manchester City welcome Steaua Bucharest to the Eithad Stadium for the second leg of their Champions League qualifying play-off this midweek (7.45pm Wednesday on BT Sport 2). Pep Guardiola’s men already have one foot in the group stage of the competition following last week’s 5-0 victory in the Romanian capital.
City made light work of the first leg on Tuesday, when Sergio Aguero (pictured) helped himself to a hat-trick despite also missing twice from the penalty spot. Last season’s Champions League semi-finalists played some brilliant attacking football throughout the encounter, cutting through their opponents with relative ease, and were also relatively untroubled at the other end of the field.
Man City impressed away at Stoke City at the weekend too, when braces from Sergio Aguero and Nolito helped them to a 4-1 victory. They should be capable of launching dual challenges in both the Premier League and European competition this term. Indeed, while some teams in the play-offs will view a place in the group stage as an achievement in itself, City will consider it the bare minimum of what is acceptable. It is a means to their targeted end of lifting the famous trophy at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff next June.
Steaua Bucharest, who reached this stage of the tournament by finishing second in Romania’s Liga I in 2015/16 and then beating Sparta Prague in the second round of qualifying, have taken 10 points from their opening four top-flight fixtures so far. They are clearly a good side in domestic terms but the gulf in class between them and Man City last Tuesday was significant. They will probably again find things difficult when they travel to the northwest of England this week.
Guardiola could be tempted to rest some of his first-team regulars given the fact that City’s advantage is surely insurmountable, with David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne among the stars who could be given the night off.
Bacary Sagna is nursing a knock and may also sit this one out, while Vincent Kompany (thigh), Leroy Sane (hamstring) and Ilkay Gundogan (knee) will definitely be absent through injury problems of their own. Kelechi Iheanacho is the leading candidate to start up top if Aguero is indeed left out, while Fernando, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and new signing Oleksandr Zinchenko will be hoping to make their first appearances of the 2016/17 campaign. Steaua look set to be without Lucian Filip (knee), Mihai Pintilii (muscular), Alin Tosca (foot) and Bojan Golubovic (cheekbone).
While City are likely to play in second gear for much of the night, it is still worth backing them to record a convincing victory against Steaua Bucharest. The visitors to the Etihad Stadium will have to be drastically more disciplined and better organised than they were in the first meeting between these sides last week, but realistically manager Laurentiu Reghecampf will head into the game with a mindset of damage limitation.
Taking everything into account, a 3-1 Man City victory could be the result in terms of the correct scoreline for this second leg clash. The hosts will prove too strong for the Romanian side going forward and should once again demonstrate their considerable attacking credentials against a team who were very open last time out, but they may also take their eye slightly off the ball and fail to record another clean sheet. Goals will surely be on the cards either way.