Manchester City’s season got off to a winning start on Saturday with a 2-1 victory over Sunderland in the Premier League. However, the focus now quickly switches to the UEFA Champions League qualification round as City travel to the Romanian capital to face Steaua Bucharest.
This will be no easy task for City as they travel to a team who are top of the table in the Romanian first division and have won all three of their opening matches.
The Champions League is a competition which the board at City are desperate to win with many assuming that Pep Guardiola has been brought in to make City a dominant force in European football.
After an unexpected fourth place finish last season, Guardiola will now need to get City to qualify for the group stage before beginning to make plans for hopefully a successful Champions League campaign.
It was evident during the Sunderland match that his philosophy is slowly seeping through with huge periods of possession and a freshness to the City players both on and off the ball.
One player who stood out was winger Raheem Sterling, who has had a tough first season at the club along with the European Championships where he was subject to a lot of criticism from England fans. Sterling was constantly charging down the right hand side, creating plenty of chances and when it comes to the Champions League he will be a crucial player in City’s European adventure.
The position of goalkeeper will also be an area focused on in the build-up to this match with City and England’s number one Joe Hart being dropped for Willy Caballero. Rumours abound that Guardiola has not been happy with Hart’s distribution, however, despite Caballero’s heroics in the League Cup final last season and a solid performance against Sunderland, City fans would be more at ease if Hart was in goal for what is a huge match.
As always with an attacking force like City’s, it will be no surprise if Steaua Bucharest will opt for a ‘park the bus’ strategy in an attempt to frustrate Guardiola’s side. Therefore, if City are going to get anything from this match, they will have to be patient.
Do not expect a goal-fest as the Romanian side are likely to be well disciplined and will look to hit on the counter attack which often proves to be the most effective tactic against sides who want to play free flowing passing football.
City will have to dissect the Romanian side and take their chances as an away goal will always prove crucial in these fixtures. The Blues’ fitness should make a difference as the high pressing and passing should tire the Bucharest players. However, towards the end of the Sunderland match, City appeared to look tired and in European competition, the players cannot let tiredness get the better of them if they hope to progress to the group stage of the Champions League which will be a major area of focus for Guardiola.
Do not expect this match to be a glamorous affair, but rather, a match where City can prove they can grind out a result against European opposition who will be trying frustrate a team who will want to play attractive football.
Written by Matt Astbury
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