Man City looks to avoid 2nd place in Champions League group
ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 08, 2015 10:09 AM
Stokes Marko Arnautovic, right, celebrates with teamates after scoring his second goal against Manchester City during the English Premier League soccer match between Stoke City and Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke on Trent, England, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
AP Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester City knows all about the pitfalls of finishing in second place in a Champions League group.
The only two times the English club has been runner-up in its group, it has been drawn to play Barcelona in the next round — and was eliminated both occasions.
City is heading the same way this season, too.
Going into the last round of matches in Group D on Tuesday, City has already qualified for the knockout stage but is two points behind Juventus in second. With Juve wrapping up group play against already-eliminated Sevilla, the Italian team — which reached the Champions League final last season — is favored to top the group and therefore be more likely to avoid a top team in the last 16.
Even more so, because City is struggling for form ahead of its home game against Borussia Moenchengladbach after losing three of its last five games in all competitions. A lengthy injury list is also hampering City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
The players making up the spine of the team — Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure — were among those missing in the 2-0 loss to Stoke on Saturday and only the latter is sure of playing at Etihad Stadium against a German side that is buoyant after beating Bayern Munich 3-1.
Pellegrini grumbled after the Stoke game that City, one of the world's richest clubs, has been left to play "with the same 13 or 14 players" in recent matches because of injuries.
"Maybe it's the reason we didn't play with the energy that we need to win," Pellegrini said.
Wherever City finishes in the group, Pellegrini said his team will go into the knockout stage with confidence.
"We are supposing that if we finish second, we will have a bad draw," Pellegrini said. "But maybe this year we can have a bad draw if we finish top of the group. There are a lot of things in the future we are not thinking about."
The other issue to tie up on Tuesday is which of Moenchengladbach and Sevilla finishes third and qualifies for the Europa League. Sevilla — the reigning Europa League champion — is two points adrift in last place.
Here are some things to know about Tuesday's games:
Tuesday is too soon for the return of Aguero, who was missing against Stoke because of a heel injury.
"Sergio has an injury which means he cannot work normally so he needs time to recover," Pellegrini said. "It's not serious, it's a pain injury. We hope he will be back this week but we'll see how he improves in the next day. If he can run with normality, he can work."
Kompany is set to miss out again and it is the absence of the captain and central defender that is hitting City the hardest. City's defense lacks leadership without Kompany and has been torn apart by Liverpool and Stoke in recent weeks.
Defensive midfielder Fernando and central defender Martin Demichelis are the latest players to join the injury list.
"We don't have that many players to rest," Pellegrini added. "Maybe there will just be two or three changes from Saturday."
TALK OF THE TOWN
Borussia Moenchengladbach is the talk of the town after becoming the first team to beat Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
The emphatic 3-1 win on Saturday also extended coach Andre Schubert's unbeaten league run to 10 matches since taking over.
Schubert has proven himself to be a flexible tactician. He used a three-man backline, with five midfielders and two strikers against Bayern for the first time and it worked very well.
Moenchengladbach cannot qualify for the knockout stage, but the aim is to secure third place and go into the Europa League. By drawing two matches with Juventus, 'Gladbach has shown that it can compete with the top teams and the win over Bayern is further proof.
No more Tevez? No problem for Juventus.
Carlos Tevez has been replaced by another Argentine forward, Paulo Dybala, who was signed from Palermo in the offseason for 32 million euros (then $36 million) and is already living up to the hype.
Dybala, who turned 22 last month, scored a goal and set up the opener in Friday's 2-0 win at Lazio.
He has scored seven goals in 14 Serie A matches — as well as assisting on a further three — but has yet to score in the Champions League. Many have started comparing him to Tevez, but Juventus teammate Leonardo Bonucci warned against heaping too much expectation on the youngster's shoulders.
"They are different actually," Bonucci said. "Carlos was and still is a leader and a reference point for the group. Paulo is young and should be allowed to grow slowly. I am sure he will become a key player for this Juve team."
Even though Sevilla's away form has been poor, the team has beaten Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia at home.
On Tuesday against Juventus, the Spanish team will be able to salvage some pride while Fernando Llorente — who moved to Sevilla from Juventus in the last transfer window — will be looking for his first Champions League goal after scoring three in the league.
Sevilla will be without defenders Marco Andreolli and Daniel Carrico, goalkeeper Beto and midfielder Gael Kakuta, who are all injured.