Manchester sides set for struggle

Ben Coley previews Tuesday's Champions League games and thinks life will be difficult for both Manchester sides.

Last Updated: 17/09/13 at 19:57 Post Comment   

Stefan Kiessling can add to his impressive goals haul

Stefan Kiessling can add to his impressive goals haul

The UEFA Champions League begins in earnest on Tuesday with the start of the group stage, and both Manchester sides are in action.

United host Bayer Leverkusen while City travel to the Czech Republic to face Plzen, who are unbeaten domestically and had little trouble in beating Maribor in the final qualifying round to ensure a minimum of six lucrative games.

It'll be fascinating to see how the first of the Premier League representatives fare and both are priced up similarly, with United 4/5 and City a shade shorter at 8/11.

What's clear to me is that neither are backable. United looked very poor on Saturday and were fortunate to be able to win as comfortably as they did against Crystal Palace, who found the Premier League champions easy enough to contain and caused problems of their own on the counter attack.

City meanwhile look ill at ease away from the relative comforts of the Etihad Stadium. While a 0-0 draw at Stoke is on its own no disaster, when viewed alongside a 3-2 defeat at Cardiff it's enough to underline that Manuel Pellegrini hasn't quite got them set up the way he'd like just yet.

As for their opponents, it's clear that Leverkusen provide the sternest test. Currently third in the Bundesliga having filled that spot last year, the 2002 runners-up are thriving under the guidance of much-respected coach Sami Hyypia, who knows a thing or two about visiting Old Trafford.

Having seen the problems caused by Crystal Palace's makeshift attack on Saturday, I'm convinced Leverkusen have what it takes to score here and the man most likely is Stefan Kiessling.

The tall striker topped last season's Bundesliga scoring charts ahead of the more widely acclaimed Robert Lewandowski and already has four goals in five games this season.

He managed a second-half brace against Wolfsburg at the weekend and while his record in European isn't nearly as strong as his domestic equivalent, Keissling did find the net away at Valencia when last Leverkusen featured in this competition.

Ultimately he's a better, more confident player now and with United struggling to control midfield, he should be afforded the chance or two he needs to find the net.

Plzen are clearly more difficult to assess, but while I would edge towards a low-scoring win for City I do think the hosts have enough of an attacking threat to be taken seriously.

Certainly, they impressed from set-pieces according to reports from their six qualifying matches, with defender Marian Cisovsky scoring five times alone including against Maribor.

He's 14/1 to find the net with some firms and as short as 6/1 elsewhere so those tuning in and wanting a bet are advised to consider him strongly.

The best bet on the coupon may be Real Sociedad to beat Shakhtar Donetsk.

It's a decade since Sociedad last took part in the competition but fans with good memories will fondly recall their passage to the knockout stages, where they lost in a pair of 1-0 defeats to Lyon.

And fittingly it's Lyon who Sociedad beat comfortably over two legs to qualify for this stage of the competition, one they arrive at with realistic claims of progressing once again.

To do so they may well need to win this, their most straightforward game on paper, and that isn't to say it's expected to be easy.

Donetsk have a wealth of European experience and have continued their policy of adding talented South Americans to their squad. The trouble is, these players tend to leave if proving up to the task and the January sale of Willian, followed by Fernandinho's departure to City, leaves them looking weak in midfield.

They've failed to win any of their last three domestic fixtures after what was admittedly a good start to the season, and Sociedad have enough about them to collect three points.

The hosts might've lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid when last in action at the Anoeta but a similar performance might well be good enough here, so at 7/5 they look worth backing.

  • Manchester United v Bayer Leverkusen is live on ITV; all other fixtures are part of Sky Sports' interactive coverage


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