The only unpredictable element of Manchester City in 2018-19 has been which of the Sky Blues will tally on a given evening. The club is actually close to “maxing out” its possible point total through 15 Matchdays in the Premier League, winning in 90+ minutes 13 times, drawing 2 times, and never losing.
Champions League play has brought equally impressive results. Just as their Premier League schedule began to accelerate in late autumn, City attackers twice answered Maxwel Cornet of the powerful French club Lyon, including Sergio Agüero in the 83rd minute of a 2-2 corker. Prior to that, the team played 2 in a row against Shakhtar Donetsk and out-scored the Ukrainians 9-0.
Not all is tea and crumpets. Agüero is injured and may need to sit for a while. City’s only loss of the fall came in a previous group-stage Champions League match with Lyon, and the squad’s attack seemed to cool somewhat in a 2-1 win over Watford on Tuesday 12/4. The Sky Blues will play again against Chelsea before hosting Hoffenheim from Germany’s Bundesliga on Wednesday the 12th. It will be the last of 6 group matches.
Circumstances make a batch of “routine” betting odds for this match seem a little more interesting. Vegas is giving the Sky Blues an almost-prohibitive (-625) moneyline next to a whopping (+1550) for Die Kraichgauer and (+580) on a 90+ minute draw. A consensus Asian Handicap goal spread takes (-2, -2.5) from City, while the goal total is (3.5).
But City struggled to get by Hoffenheim at Rhein-Neckar Arena in early group play. Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann often plays 5 on the backline when defending, then sends a wave of 4 front-line attackers on the counter. Forwards and midfielders play an aggressive zonal defense, but center backs remain to take on attackers as a last resort.
Who knows if the formation bothered City, but Algerian striker Ishak Belfodil scored in only the 1st minute, turning cheers into roars. The Sky Blues would slug their way to a 2-1 victory.
There will be even more pressure this time around as City needs a point to finish 1st place in Group F, while Hoffenheim needs an upset bid to entertain 3rd place.
Bayern Munich has a choke-hold on Bundesliga, causing a severe lack of parity to ripple throughout the league. Dortmund is still a fine football club and so are several others. But there’s no backload of solid teams for the league to rely on. Hoffenheim is trying desperately to renew its relevance in the sport.
Wednesday’s underdogs suffered at home on Matchday 5, possessing the ball for most of the match but losing to Shakhtar Donetsk in a bitter 3-2 result. Striker Ádám Szalai was handed a red card in the 59th minute, crippling the lineup.
However, the squad hasn’t played all that badly in late autumn. Hoffenheim helped City hang around the top of the Group F standings with a pair of hard-fought draws with Lyon. There hasn’t been a Bundesliga loss since October, and on 10/27 and 11/4 the attack exploded for 8 goals in 4 halves (including a pair from Belfodil) to set the unbeaten streak alight.
Oliver Baumann is a veteran GK who assisted on the tying tally in Hoffenheim’s 3-3 draw with Hertha Berlin. Still, any squad that can compete with City in a UEFA match ought not to be needing clever plays to salvage points in a top-heavy domestic league. We’re about to see if Hoffenheim’s sporadically improved attack and ball possession are signs of good things to come, or purely mirages.
Things aren’t that unclear on the English side of this match-up.
Set aside the close calls in recent matches. Manchester City’s current run in the Premier League is nothing short of electric. The scoring stats are impressive almost across the lineup. The backline is capital, with John Stones lurking by the keeper’s side.
Ederson is the glue holding an epic unbeaten streak together. In October, the Brazilian posted 3 consecutive clean sheets, the first against Liverpool at Anfield, the next vs Burnley, and the finale against Harry Kane and Tottenham at Wembley Stadium.
As for the backline, manager Pep Guardiola says Vincent Kompany is fine after suffering a leg cramp against Watford, but the defender’s future with the club has been called into question following inconsistent performances.
Meanwhile, Kyle Walker is in hot water for sending out a tweet in poor taste. You’d think at some point, athletes would learn not to do that.
One might be worried about City’s backline (and Agüero’s absence) if the club was headed to play a group of elite attackers. As it stands, the injuries and the distractions may make Manchester City just uncomfortable enough to push the ball upfield.
Most hypothetical scenarios lead to 4 goals or more being scored in the match. Probably no more than 1 or 2 (if that!) on Ederson, and probably 2 to 4 tallies on the less-talented Baumann.
When Man City penetrates the Hoffenheim goal box, 2 things can happen. City beats down any clearance attempts and eventually scores, or Hoffenheim wins the ball, transitions to 4-man attack mode and sets off down the pitch. A battle of attack-vs-counterattack is sure to produce wide-open play and a healthy final score, even if City backs away from contact in the final 10 or 15 minutes.
Bookies know this! But long-term trends and tradition will almost always keep an O/U below 4 total goals.
It could be a low-energy slog and a 0-0 draw on Wednesday. But I’m going with the percentage play and a firm belief that City’s stuttering attack vs Watford was just a blip.
Pick the Over (3.5) for a winner on Wednesday.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.