Manchester City V Ajax
Tuesday, 6 November 2012 – Kick-Off: 19:45 GMT
Live on ITV1
A succession of victories is the minimum requirement now for Manchester City, who, with just one solitary point accrued after three Group D contests, are facing up to the prospect of having to beat Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in their remaining three clashes – the latter two in Germany and Spain – in order to give themselves a fighting chance of qualifying for the last-sixteen. Even then, were they to pull off something miraculous by beating all of the aforementioned trio, it may not be enough.
Having succumbed to Ajax and Real Madrid on the road, and having only managed a disappointing but ultimately fortuitous draw at home to Borussia Dortmund, Man City find themselves in the unenvied position of requiring wins from all three of their remaining group games to stand any chance of qualifying from yet another Group of Death. I say another as last season saw Roberto Mancini’s team drawn alongside Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal. City would finish the group phase on a respectable 10-points – which just so happens to be the best points-tally they can hope to achieve this time around – and yet that was only good enough for a third place finish…
It has to be demoralising in a way, to be all too aware that even were you to string three of the most unlikeliest victories together, it may still not be sufficient. That is, nevertheless, the gauntlet facing the reigning champions of England, and they begin their ‘all or nothing’ sequence at home to Dutch champions Ajax, who were sound 3-1 winners when the two sides met in Amsterdam a fortnight ago. I suspect Man City will exact revenge in Manchester, where they are currently unbeaten in eighteen European home games having triumphed in no fewer than fourteen – although the odds on a home win are uninspiring to say the least.
The best odds you will find on a Man City victory are the 9/20 on offer with BetVictor. To be honest, I make that about right. This is a young, exuberant Ajax side crammed full of potential, but one that is still learning its trade in many respects, certainly in Europe at least, and is going through a woeful spell domestically (Saturday’s 2-0 loss at home to Vitesse stretched their winless run to four matches in the Eredivisie). By comparison, this City team is comprised of some of the wealthiest footballers in the industry, and they are paid vast sums to deliver world-class performances each and every time they take to the pitch – which, to their credit, they have done for the best part of the past eighteen months.
Ajax played some lovely football in Amsterdam it must be said, and were deserving of their victory, but there is an argument that the Amsterdammers were deceptively impressive. The fact they were brushed aside with so much ease by Real Madrid on Matchday 2, in Holland, when losing 4-1, and that Frank de Boer’s charges have struggled to overcome mediocre opposition on the domestic front having triumphed in just four of their opening eleven fixtures, would suggest City really were that poor on the night – and they certainly were. You would like to think it is near-impossible for Man City to produce another sub-par performance like that, but their subsequent outings would perhaps suggest otherwise.
Since that 3-1 reverse inside the Amsterdam Arena, City have kept successive clean sheets for the first time this season, but did so in an unconvincing manner, labouring to a 1-0 home win over Swansea and an uninspiring 0-0 draw away at West Ham on Saturday. Quite how Joe Hart kept those clean sheets is beyond me, as both the Swans and the Hammers spurned glorious chances to get their noses in front and potentially claim famous wins.
The main reason for City’s travails this season is their apparent inability to control matches, with Roberto Mancini’s usually tidy and assured side anything but so far this term. The prolonged absence of talisman David Silva certainly hasn’t helped, but it isn’t as though this City squad isn’t deep enough to cover the loss of the odd big-hitter. And the Citizens will be shorn of several on Tuesday, with Micah Richards, Maicon, Jack Rodwell and James Milner among the injured party, while Joleon Lescott is a doubt.
Can’t say I am too enthralled with the odds on a home win, but I do understand the bookies’ viewpoint. As disappointing as Man City have been so far this season, especially in Europe, they really ought to be brushing their opposition on Tuesday – an Ajax side which has gone their last four Eredivisie matches without winning – aside with the sort of ease that Real Madrid displayed at the Amsterdam Arena on Matchday 2, when running out resounding 4-1 victors. I reckon they will… eventually, but it might take until the second half before the hosts find their rhythm. As has been the case on numerous occasions already this season.
A small play on the HT/FT market for me then, with Draw/Man City a fair price at 18/5 with BetVictor bearing in mind City have taken a lead into half-time in just four of their thirteen Premier League and Champions League games this season, while 15 of the 22 goals they scored in those same fixtures were netted after the half-time interval. I will also have a wager on a certain Argentine maestro returning to his prolific best.
Sergio Aguero has endured a frustrating start to the new term, netting just twice in all competitions, though he did miss several weeks through injury. However, Roberto Mancini opted to start his leading marksmen from last season (30 in all competitions in the 2011-12 campaign) on the bench for Saturday’s goalless draw with West Ham, seemingly with Ajax in mind, and a refreshed Kun Aguero is a frightening prospect.
Both Bet365 and BetVictor go 4/1 on the 24-year-old scoring supremo opening the scoring, and offer odds of evens on him netting at any point in proceedings. I have a lot of love for both bets, as the imminent return of Aguero to the starting-XI will inject some much-needed energy and life into what has been a, well, lifeless City attack of late.