Manchester City vs Juventus | Tuesday 15 September | Etihad Stadium | 20:45
What a way for the Champions League to recommence, with reigning Italian champions Juventus visiting the undefeated pace-setters in England.
Max Allegri’s side have battled to recreate their form from last season, seemingly struggling to cope with the loss of arch-playmaker Andrea Pirlo. Their indifferent form in Serie A will be a major concern heading towards this clash with an imperious looking City side. Pellegrini’s side have been perfect in England, yet to concede a goal in their first five matches. Their defensive organisation has been exemplary, but we all know that European progression - given the sums of money being spent - is almost essential at this point of the club’s evolution.
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To Win (90mins)
Manchester City 15/20
Despite their impressive start to the season, City go into this fixture with some real injury concerns. Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero are unlikely to feature, while David Silva is still fighting to get fully fit. Fabian Delph is also unavailable, but Fernando should be back to match readiness in time for contention for this match. Wilfried Bony was largely isolated against Palace, he himself having just come back from an injury lay-off. So Pellegrini will have some tinkering to do in this daunting opening fixture. The combination of Kompany and Mangala has been brilliant, with Mangala’s pace dovetailing perfectly with Kompany’s robust presence. It is hard to see Morata extracting too much change from this formidable central defensive pairing.
Yaya Toure and Fernandinho will be looking to check the progressive midfield running of Pogba and Pereyra, while Kevin De Bruyne will step into the vacancy offered by Sterling. Funnily enough, unsung stalwart Jesus Navas may prove a critical player in this fixture. His sheer pace should be enough to get at a somewhat aged Juventus defence. Evra and Lichtsteiner tend to bomb forward mercilessly, which should open up some opportunities for De Bruyne and Navas to get in behind. Bony’s more powerful presence could also prove useful against a physically imposing Juventus back three.
Max Allegri’s side have hardly set the world on fire thus far in Serie A, earning a disappointing point at home to lowly Chievo this weekend. The loss of Andrea Pirlo, so long the malevolent architect of Juventus’ play, has proved hard for the current squad to deal with. He had the uncanny ability to switch defence to attack with his rapier-like passing range, a role that they have found hard to redefine. Marchisio is a major doubt this week, which will likely see Padoin play in the holding role alongside Pereyra. Paul Pogba’s awful start to the season has been seen by many as a direct result of rampant transfer speculation linking the French star with likes of Barcelona and Chelsea. His duel with Yaya Toure could prove a decisive microcosm of the entire match.
Morata will likely cast a largely isolated figure this Tuesday, with Dybala and Hernanes tasked with assisting the Spaniard. I’m certain that Allegri will opt for his favoured 3-5-2 formation, with Lichtsteiner and Evra tasked with marauding the flanks in search for space. That desire for width, ironically enough, could be their undoing, with Navas and De Bruyne looking to exploit any misjudgement by the wing backs. I feel that this may be a step too far for a Juventus side struggling to find any rhythm this season.
VERDICT: Manchester City 15/20
City look a more settled side and their pace should be enough to get at a Juventus side in transition. I expect Jesus Navas to have a large say in proceedings.