Both Manchester clubs are in action in the Premier League on Sunday, as the battle for European places hots up. The Red half of Manchester witnessed their side labour to a 1-0 victory over Russian side Rostov in the Europa League on Thursday night, but at least they take their place in the last eight of the competition. The Blue half of Manchester saw their Champions League dreams slip away for another season, as they went down to a 3-1 defeat in Monaco – the French side progressing on the away goal rule.
Back to domestic matters, and a place in this season’s top four is by no means guaranteed for either club. Jose Mourinho’s United have been stuck in 6th place in the league since the 5th of December, and the frustration is growing. The Red Devils are actually unbeaten in the Premier League since that 4-0 reverse at Chelsea way back in October, but home draws against the likes of Hull and Bournemouth are the sort of results that are costing them dear. They visit Middlesbrough this weekend who have just parted company with manager Aitor Karanka, and have dropped into the Premier League relegation zone.
The big game on Sunday is at the Etihad though, where Pep Guardiola’s side will try to banish memories of their Champions League loss by beating top four rivals Liverpool. The two clubs sit 3rd and 4th with City ahead by a single point, although they do have a game in hand on the Reds. After four straight wins, City were frustrated by a 0-0 draw with Stoke, while Liverpool have turned around their recent blip with back-to-back wins over Arsenal and Burnley.
Manchester City v Liverpool
The bet that makes most appeal is over 2.5 goals and both teams to score at -115 with Coral.
Both of these teams have received plenty of praise for their attacking styles – the stamp of managers such as Klopp and Guardiola, but neither are renowned for their defensive prowess. Conceding six goals to Monaco in the Champions League ultimately put paid to their participation in the competition, and City have failed to keep a clean sheet in ten of their last 20 games. Interestingly, not one of those clean sheets has come against a side ranked in the top half of the Premier League, and the obvious conclusion is that the Citizens struggle to hold out against the better quality teams.
Liverpool have much the same profile, with just seven clean sheets in their last 20 games. At least the Reds can say they’ve held out against some decent teams in Everton and indeed Man City in a 1-0 Anfield win, but very few sides leave the Etihad without conceding a goal. This bet would have landed in each of the last four meetings between these two sides in Manchester, and another goal fest could be on the cards.
Manchester City will be expected to show a response after the midweek disappointment, but it will be difficult for the players to lift themselves after such a huge effort. Liverpool have had the luxury of a seven-day break since beating Burnley 2-1 last Sunday, and that could play to their advantage.
Middlesbrough v Manchester United
It might be unimaginative, but under 2.5 goals looks the bet to be on at -137 with BetVictor when United visit the Riverside in Sunday’s early kick off.
Middlesbrough sacked manager Aitor Karanka this week after three and a half years in charge. Boro are without a win in ten Premier League games, and now sit in the relegation zone some three points from safety. Assistant coach Steve Agnew is set to take charge of first team matters until a new man is appointed, with former Leicester boss Nigel Pearson among the early front-runners.
Ultimately – as Boro fans will tell anyone who listens – it has been a negative brand of football that has been their undoing this year. They’ve scored a divisional low of just 19 goals this term, and while a goals against total of 30 is the best defensive record in the bottom half, that lack of strike-power is what leaves them staring relegation in the face. It didn’t help that Karanka left Downing and Bamford out of the squad for the Manchester City FA Cup tie, suggesting they lacked “fight”, and all signs point to him losing the dressing room. We might see a more adventurous Middlesbrough in the coming weeks as they try to secure top flight status, but don’t expect a glut of goals against Mourinho’s United.
The Red Devils haven’t quite stepped up under the Portuguese manager, but they are at least showing signs of improvement. It’s a long time since they’ve lost a Premier League game, and perhaps the biggest issue is that of putting games to bed. They have struggled to overcome fairly average sides of late – having been held to a 1-1 draw by ten-man Bournemouth in the last Premier League outing. It took a 70th minute Juan Mata goal to see off Russian side Rostov during the week and this is a quick turnaround after that game.
United will probably come through and win given Boro’s lack of firepower, but it could be a struggle against a team that is sure to put in that little bit of extra effort after Karanka’s dismissal.
Man City v Liverpool – Over 2.5 goals and both teams to score
Sunday 19th March, 16:30 GMT
Middlesbrough v Manchester United – Under 2.5 goals
Sunday 19th March, 12:00 GMT