Hart-less Man City may maul Moscow
With or without Joe Hart, Manchester City (1/5) look primed and ready to beat CSKA Moscow at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night and book their place in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Hart has paid the price for a series of mistakes and been replaced in goal by the giant Romanian Costel Pantiliman and manager Manuel Pellegrini has indicated that it may be some time before England’s number one gets his place back in a City jersey.
Pantiliman has looked secure while keeping clean sheets against Newcastle in the Capital One Cup last week and against Norwich in the Premier League on Saturday, although City were so dominant in that fixture that they didn’t really need anybody between the posts.
CSKA will surely provide a sterner test than an abject Norwich, but City will be full of confidence after handing out that 7-0 thrashing and it is difficult to see anything other than another comfortable victory for the light blues.
Yes, City weren’t exactly dominant in the away fixture between the two sides a fortnight ago and it would have been 2-2 instead of 2-1 had Hart the hero not kept out a point blank effort in the closing minutes.
But the name of the game on a long trip to Eastern Europe is to get the job done and get back home and we should see a more relaxed and adventurous City in this return tie.
The Russians have won both their domestic fixtures since, but still trail Zenit St Petersburg by nine points in their Premier League and are unlikely to be a match for City back on their Manchester patch.
Much tougher assignments lie ahead, including, of course, a trip to Bayern Munich, who made our Premier League favourites look so ordinary on Matchday Two. But this time the Champions League draw was kind to City; they can afford even two defeats to the holders and still make it through to the last 16 (barring unforeseen disasters), probably with a bit to spare.
Sergio Aguero (8/11), Alvaro Negredo (10/11) and Edin Dzeko (evens), all on the scoresheet against Norwich, will be licking their lips at the prospect of another goal-fest and it could indeed be a one-sided affair.
Those hoping for another 7-0 (90/1 with Coral) might be asking for a bit too much. But 4-0 (10/1) or 5-0 (18/1) might be on the cards.