Having moved beyond their first difficult patch since Pep Guardiola’s arrival, Manchester City look to sew up a spot in the knockout round of the Champions League on Wednesday when they face Borussia Monchengladbach at Borussia-Park in Germany.
A win would see City through to the round of 16 for the fourth straight campaign as they try to match or exceed last year’s first trip to the Champions League semifinals in franchise history. After blazing to 10 wins in as many matches at the outset of the season, Guardiola’s men finally cooled off and endured a six-match winless spell that featured three defeats.
But now unbeaten in their last four in all contests (3-1-0), highlighted by their 3-1 victory over Barcelona that gave them life to still win Group C with some help, Manchester City appear to be back on track and contending for silverware both domestically and abroad.
On Saturday, midfielder Yaya Toure made his league debut and first appearance since City’s Champions League playoff win over Steaua Bucharest and responded with goals on either side of halftime to provide a 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace that moved the Citizens into third place – trailing Liverpool on goals scored and only one point back of front-runners Chelsea.
“I am very pleased for him because it has not been easy for him in the past few weeks,” teammate Bacary Sagna told Goal.com about Toure, whose playing time was reportedly limited because of a row between his agent and Guardiola. “Everyone knows his quality, and he showed he is a great player. The manager showed his confidence in Yaya, and Yaya gave it back to him.”
Where the former Ivory Coast international goes after this is unclear since he is not on City’s Champions League roster. City, though, have not missed Toure all that much as they have grown accustomed to Guardiola’s up-tempo system and because summer signing Ilkay Gundogan has helped solidify City in the midfield for Champions League play.
It was Gundogan who made his debut in the reverse fixture at the Etihad, where Manchester City ran riot in a 4-0 thrashing of the German side. In 81 silky minutes, the Germany international proved his worth and has added to his reputation with braces against West Bromwich domestically and Barcelona in the group stages.
While Gundogan has a pair of braces, striker Sergio Aguero is seeking to become the first player in Champions League history to record three hat tricks in the group stage. His second one accounted for most of the damage in the reverse fixture, but the Argentine forward has only two assists in his last three Champions League matches.
Gundogan is expected to fill Toure’s spot in the starting XI for this match, while central defender John Stones is also likely to re-claim his place after being held out this weekend. Whether he pairs with Nicolas Otamendi or Vincent Kompany is yet to be determined since Kompany left the pitch Saturday due to blurred vision.
Borussia Monchengladbach know they have a daunting task to somehow advance from Group C – they must win this game and then defeat Barcelona at the Nou Camp – though a spot in the Europa League is still in the offering if they can hold off Celtic for third place in the group.
The German side know they have much room for improvement from the first match between the teams, with defender Tobias Strobl saying: “They were better than us in every department, but things aren’t always easy in the Champions League. Things don’t always go according to plan.”
And little has gone according to plan for the Foals domestically as well. Gladbach are 13th in the Bundlesiga table on 12 points and have just two wins in their last 10 matches (2-3-5) in all competitions following a 2-1 defeat at home to 1. FC Koln on Saturday.
About the only good news for the team is Lars Stindl’s goal in the 32nd minute ended a 496-minute scoreless drought in league play that dated to Oscar Wendt’s marker on 76 minutes of a 2-0 win over FC Ingolstadt 04 on Sept. 24. The German side has had precious little to show from its previous two home games in group play, losing to Barcelona and drawing with Celtic.
“We have to try to keep our heads up and be positive going forward,” midfielder Fabian Johnson told the team’s official website. “It’s not that we have played badly throughout all these matches. We need to do our best to bring the good aspects from those games to the Manchester City game.”
Manager Andre Schubert will also be short-handed as he tries to slow City. Defender Julian Korb and midifielder Christoph Kramer are serving one-match bans, but defender Marvin Schulz could be in line for his season debut after returning to training following a thigh injury.
Manchester City holds a 3-1-1 lead in the all-time series and are trying to do the double in group play for the second straight year. They rallied to a 2-1 win at Gladbach last season, capped by Aguero’s penalty in the 90th minute.
Cuneyt Cakir fronts a Turkish officiating crew that will oversee the match.
Probable Lineups: Borussia Monchengladbach (3-5-2) – Sommer, Elvedi, Christensen, Vestergaard, Wendt, Strobl, Stindl, Dahoud, Traore, Raffael, Hazard. Manchester City (4-3-3) – Bravo, Kolarov, Otamendi, Stones, Zabaleta, Silva, Fernandinho, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Aguero, Sterling.
Prediction: Manchester City, 3-1.