Defeatists might suggest that Manchester City’s encounter with Borussia Dortmund will, at best, help decide who finishes as runners-up in the Champion’s League ‘Group of Death’.
The clever money is on Real Madrid to emerge as Group winners and Dutch champions Ajax finishing bottom, leaving City in a straight dogfight with the Bundesliga & German Cup double winners.
Any team that can annihilate Bayern Munich and win back-to-back Bundesliga titles is a real and present danger, but as formidable as they appear, Dortmund do not travel well. They lost all their away games in the group stage last year and have lost their last three games when crossing the Channel.
It’s imperative that City win their home games in Group D if they are to have a realistic hope of avoiding the agony of last season – missing out on the knockout stages despite amassing 10 points.
Confidence should be high among Roberto Mancini’s side after a convincing win at Fulham and the knowledge, albeit painful, that they were five minutes away from a famous victory at the Bernabeu Stadium a fortnight ago.
With a fully match fit Sergio Aguero restored to the attack, Edin Dzeko continuing his healthy knack of netting vital goals, plus Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli hungry for the big stage, City have the firepower to breach Borussia’s backline.
At Craven Cottage,David Silva had his best game for a while Samir Nasri is looking far more accomplished and Yaya is as indispensible as ever. Dortmund’s defence of Mat Hummels, Neven Subotic & Co will have their work cut out.
Had it not been for a sub standard performance from referee Mark Halsey, City would have recorded their first clean sheet of the season on Saturday. The defence had a more familiar look with Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy out wide, but with Matija Nastasic replacing stalwart, Joleon Lescott, in the centre with Vincent Kompany.
If Mancini has opted for a conventional and settled back four, it would mean the 3-5-2 alternative going on the back burner, while City strive to recapture the defensive consistency of the past two seasons.
Dropping Lescott to the bench may seem harsh – if it happens – but City have to plug the leaks of recent weeks. Nastasic, although young, has already shown he can cope with the big occasion. His mobility against Dortmund’s standout striker, Robert Lewandowski, could be key to a home win.
Seeing the Germans post a big fat nil would virtually ensure the win because City hardly ever fail to score at the Etihad. City will start favourites but, with three points courtesy of a 1-0 home win over Ajax and further boosted by a 5-0 thrashing of Borussia Monchengladbach at the weekend, Dortmund will come with few intentions of parking ‘der bus’.
Dortmund won’t lack for creativity with the excellent German pairing of Mario Gotze and Marco Reus along with another Pole Jakub Blaszczykowski posing danger.
Mancini knows that progress to the latter stages is a must, if he is to realise his ambition of building a blue dynasty and challenging for Europe’s elite footballing prize.
The Champions League is the sole blot on his CV, but a win and the prospect of a further six points from back-to-back games with Ajax, would set the scene for the home tie with Real Madrid.
What better way to confound his critics than to clinch a place in the last 16 against his nemesis Jose Mourinho and, who knows, even topple The Special One off the top of Group D.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First things first…here come the Germans.