Manchester City made light work of Steaua Bucharest in last week’s Champions League Qualifier first leg, demonstrating the change in style that Pep Guardiola has quickly installed. Sergio Aguero managed to grab a hat-trick despite missing two penalties, and the on-fire frontman was on target again twice in the weekend win against Stoke.
The second leg has the air of a formality about it after that impressive result, but such is the strength of the Citizen’s squad it’s hard to see past another comfortable victory. Guardiola is well used to thrashing inferior opponents in his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and he will expect the same ruthlessness from his new side. Steaua boasted a very strong home record prior to last week’s humiliation, but they never landed a blow as City steamrollered them into submission.
It was an equally thrilling win for Celtic last week as they secured a 5-2 first leg lead against Israeli side Hapoel Beer Sheva at Celtic Park. They now travel to Israel with a three-goal lead, and new boss Brendan Rodgers is just 90 minutes away from restoring Champions League football to the Hoops after a two-year hiatus.
Manchester City v Steaua Bucharest
One of the hallmarks of Guardiola’s tactics is the high press and it paid dividends in the away leg as they hustled and harried Steaua into several mistakes. The slick interchange of passing was too much for the Romanians to cope with and it could easily have been seven or eight without flattering City. Sergio Aguero, usually so reliable in front of goal, managed to miss two penalties before going on to complete his hat-trick, with Silva and Nolito adding the other two.
Nolito bagged a brace as a late substitute in the 4-1 win over Stoke at the weekend, and he may well be afforded a start in this game if Guardiola elects to shuffle his pack. Young starlet Iheanacho also made a fine camoe off the bench and he’s another who will fancy his chances if given the nod.
Steaua have no realistic chance of progressing here so it could well be a case of damage limitation as far as they are concerned, but much better sides have come to the Etihad and left with their tails between their legs after taking a pounding. If the Romanian side take that route City will have little to worry about in terms of conceding, and it’s highly unlikely that they won’t find the net at least twice to beat the handicap.
Hapoel Beer Sheva v Celtic
It was a topsy-turvy game last week under the lights at Celtic Park, with Brendan Rodgers’ men racing into a three-goal lead before half-time. However, a quick-fire double from the visitors after the break put them right back into the game, and Celtic had to dig deep to add two late goals through Dembele and Griffiths to put the gloss back on the scoreline.
Celtic were good value for the win after dominating the bulk of the game, and although they conceded those two away goals, they should have enough to get through to the promised land of the Champions League group stage. Hapoel recorded some good results to reach this point – notably a victory over Olympiakos – but their inexperience at this level shone through. They have little option but to go at Celtic and try to score goals to reduce the deficit, but the Hoops are more than capable of hitting them on the break.
This has the feel of one of those Champions League ties that will feature plenty of goals as the Israeli side go for broke, and Celtic look for the away goals that will put the tie beyond reach.
Monaco v Villarreal
Monaco look a shade overpriced at +140 with BetVictor on home ground, despite already holding a 2-1 lead from last week’s first leg.
Villarreal have lost several key players over the summer and opened their La Liga account at the weekend with a 1-1 draw away at Granada. The last six games (including friendlies) have yielded four defeats and two draws, and it’s a big ask to go to Monaco and get any kind of result.
The French side meanwhile, have won three of the last five games including a 1-0 success away at Nantes in the league over the weekend. They’ve won five of the last seven on home soil, and beat Fenerbache 3-1 here in this competition earlier in August. They will look to finish the job and secure qualification, and the 2-1 lead is slender enough for them to take no chances. At the price on offer, Monaco are a good bet to win the match over 90 minutes and take their place in the group stages.
Manchester City -1.5 to beat Steaua Bucharest
Wednesday 24th August, 19:45 GMT
Hapoel Beer Sheva v Celtic – Both Teams to Score
Tuesday 23rd August, 19:45 GMT
Monaco to beat Villarreal
Tuesday 23rd August, 19:45 GMT
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