Manchester City have made a perfect start to their first campaign under Pep Guardiola, and Bundesliga columnist Kevin Hatchard expects that to continue against an inconsistent Borussia Monchengladbach...
"Gladbach are a good side, but they struggle away from home, and Manchester City's talented players have adapted superbly to Pep Guardiola's style of play."
*Game originally postponed due to heavy rain. The rearranged fixture will be played Wednesday 14 September at 19:45.
Manchester City v Borussia Monchengladbach
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Manchester City courted Pep Guardiola for years, and the weekend's 2-1 win in the Manchester derby truly showed us why that masterplan meant so much to them. For most of the first half at Old Trafford against Mourinho's United, Guardiola's side mesmerised their opponents with the kind of football the perpetually intense Catalan dreams about night and day. Passing and pressing perfected, as a hitherto impressive United were made to look fragile and slow-witted, until they awoke after the break. Indeed, City's stoic resistance in the closing stages caught the eye almost as much as their breathtaking opening.
Having closely watched Guardiola's Bayern for three years, I suggested in a pre-season column that City's talented squad would quickly take on board their new manager's ideas, just as the players had at Sabener Strasse in Munich. City have won all four of their Premier League games, and are now 1.9420/21 favourites to win the title.
Just as Robert Lewandowski did in Germany, star striker Sergio Aguero has thrived under Guardiola, or at least he did until picking up a domestic ban. Unlike his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini, Pep has found a way to accommodate both David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Just as he did with Javier Mascherano at Barcelona and Philipp Lahm at Bayern, he has shown an ability to re-mould players, converting Aleksandar Kolarov into a surprisingly solid central defender.
Winning the Premier League would be impressive, but it is in the Champions League where City and their new coach really have a point to prove. City's power brokers see Guardiola as the key to the Champions League success they crave, but after three failures to win the competition or even reach the final with Bayern, there are questions to answer. In a group that also contains Celtic and Guardiola's beloved Barcelona, there is little margin for error.
Not many coaches enjoy the golden consistency of Guardiola, and Gladbach boss Andre Schubert is a wonderful example of how football can be a capricious business. A spell at second-division St Pauli a few years ago ended in dismissal, with Schubert accused of having an abrasive and overly intense demeanour which alienated his players. In 2015, he reluctantly stepped up from the Borussia Monchengladbach youth department, and transformed a side with no points from five games into a team that qualified for the Champions League.
Schubert is now a chastened, calmer man, who has learned how to inspire loyalty in his players. He twice faced Manchester City in last season's competition, but went down 2-1 at Borussia Park and 4-2 at the Etihad Stadium.
When Gladbach click, they are wonderful to watch. They crushed Young Boys in the qualifiers 9-2 on aggregate, and they beat a strong Bayer Leverkusen side 2-1 in their Bundesliga opener. Raffael and Lars Stindl are a clever front two, Christoph Kramer has boundless energy in midfield, and 20-year-old playmaker Mahmoud Dahoud is attracting admiring glances from a clutch of top European clubs.
However, Schubert has failed to fix the Foals' chronically bad away form, and his side were very poor in Saturday's 3-1 defeat at newly-promoted Freiburg. Although former Chelsea player Thorgan Hazard scored a superb goal, it came against the run of play, and Freiburg's comeback was fully merited. Gladbach have now won just one of their last 12 away games in the Bundesliga, and they have lost 11 of their last 20 road matches in Germany's top flight. For a team of Gladbach's ambition it's an unacceptable record, a festering wound that Schubert is failing to salve.
Schubert's Gladbach took four points off Guardiola's Bayern Munich last season but, even though he has a talented side at his disposal, there are weaknesses that City can exploit. The loss of Granit Xhaka to Arsenal has cost the Foals some bite in midfield, and the defence has been exposed as a result. The once-dependable defender Tony Jantschke has really lost his way in the last year or so, and there's a lot of pressure on on-loan Chelsea centre-back Andreas Christensen, who is just 20.
With Aguero well-rested after missing the Manchester derby through suspension, and the outstanding De Bruyne on a high after scoring at Old Trafford, I can see City creating plenty of chances against opponents they beat home and away in the Champions League last season.
City are a bit short to tempt us at 1.444/9, but you can back a Man City/Over 2.5 Goals double at 1.824/5, and I think that's the way to go. Both meetings between the clubs last term would've seen that bet pay out.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Five of Gladbach's six games in all competitions this season have featured at least three goals, and they haven't failed to score in a game since mid-April. Apart from their two-legged demolition of an awful Steaua Bucharest side, City are yet to keep a clean sheet, but they have smashed in 17 goals under Guardiola at an average of nearly three per game.
Borussia Monchengladbach's best players are attack-minded, and with Raffael, Stindl and Hazard they have players capable of breaching City's defence. On that basis, you could back Over 3.5 Goals at 2.245/4.
Half Time/Full Time
City have led at half-time in five of their six matches under Guardiola, with the 1-0 win over Steaua the only exception, and that was a low-intensity dead rubber. City will be keen to make a statement in a tough group, and it's worth noting they have taken the lead in the first 15 minutes of three different games this term. I can see them leading at half-time and full-time.
Back Manchester City/Over 2.5 Goals double at 1.824/5
Back Manchester City/Manchester City in the HT/FT market at 2.186/5