Sporting LisbonChampions LeagueVS
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Let’s face it, Manchester City are as good as through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League after a first-half demolition of Portuguese side Sporting in their last-16 first leg in Lisbon a fortnight go.
Four goals in the opening 45 minutes had the game done and dusted as a contest, before Raheem Sterling provided some further gloss with a superb goal from distance early in the second half.
The brief for Sporting now is damage limitation, while City will come into this off the back of an intense Manchester Derby, so will they be firing on all cylinders for a second leg that is as close to a dead rubber as can be?
Hear us out on this one.
Now, Manchester City have hardly been in imperious form since their Lisbon love-in a fortnight ago. They followed it up with a 3-2 home defeat to Spurs, before needing a huge helping hand from the officials in their controversial 1-0 win over Everton last weekend.
This is a City side that are far from their best at present, while, albeit against weak opposition, Sporting have conceded just once in their two games following their home humbling from Pep Guardiola’s men.
And City will no doubt be prioritising their local derby with Manchester United the weekend before this one, with Liverpool probably cutting their lead at the top of the Premier League down to three points with a victory over West Ham the day before.
It remains to be seen how much that game will take out of City, and with the Mancunians five ahead from the first leg, Pep can afford to rotate a squad that is brimming with quality options. Meanwhile, Sporting will be keen to restore at least some pride, so we think they will keep the score down here.
Life was looking rather rosey for City a few weeks ago, courtesy of a cushty 12-point advantage at the top of the Premier League table.
But that lead was cut down to three as recently as a week ago, so the Citizens are under no illusions that they need to resharpen their domestic focus ahead of a busy period.
They’re probably relieved that they merely need to turn up to the Etihad to confirm their place in the last eight of the Champions League, and with the Lisbon side struggling to make much of an impression in the Portuguese top flight, we can’t see them causing much of a scare in midweek.
But City will probably make this one a leisurely encounter and will perhaps go easy on an opponent that will be extra keen to keep the score down to avoid complete humiliation.
Guardiola has a virtually full-strength squad to choose from.
Sporting’s season is on the verge of petering out, with Champions League football now off the table for another year, while their attempts to chase down Porto in the Primeira Liga appear to be in vain.
Ruben Amorin’s side currently sit six points behind Porto, which, yes, doesn’t sound insurmountable, but the table-toppers are unbeaten so far this season and don’t look like loosening their grip at the summit anytime soon.
And while it may be a little silly to suggest this after the first leg, but Sporting have typically been very good defensively this season, conceding just 16 goals in their 24 league outings.
So that gives us further hope that they can limit their hosts to just a couple, while alterations in the City defensive line could open the door for them to pick up a goal themselves.
Amorin has picked up no fresh injuries in his squad since the first leg.
These two have met just three times prior to this week’s game, with the first leg being their first clash in the Champions League.
City moved ahead in the head-to-head a fortnight ago with their second victory, while Sporting picked up a win in the two sides’ first meeting back in 2012.
These days it’s more commonly known as the Etihad, but the City of Manchester Stadium was its first name when it opened in 2002 – initially as an athletics venue for the Commonwealth Games.
Its most famous moment is almost certainly Sergio Aguero’s last-minute goal to win City their maiden Premier League title in 2012.
We all know this game is over as a contest, which actually makes it more challenging to assess from a betting angle.
But we think most things point towards a low-key City victory by one or two goals.