Weblog: The football punter

Shakhtar could make an early breakthrough

BT Sport 3, 8pm Wednesday

Pep Guardiola’s men need to put their nightmare at Norwich behind them if the Champions League favourites are to kick off their latest European adventure with victory in Ukraine against Shakhtar.

Given they are returning to a venue where they won 3-0 last season, City ought to be confident and the layers certainly rate them red-hot favourites.

But this is a new campaign against a team under a new, popular coach, and any sense of City invincibility was surely blown out of the water by Saturday’s calamity at Carrow Road.

Shakhtar have a positive, attack-minded mentality like Norwich and  will doubtless be delighted that City are struggling to find fit central defenders with John Stones having joined Aymeric Laporte on the sidelines due to a muscle injury.

The chances are that City have more than enough firepower to offset any blunders at the back and three Group C points will ensue – but they are no sort of a bet at the price.

This should be a high-scoring game because all City matches seem to be these days – their five Premier League fixtures have produced 22 goals at 4.4 goals per game. Shakhtar’s seven league games have yielded 29 goals (4.1 goals per game) culminating in Saturday’s 4-3 success over Zorya which extended their lead at the top of the table to seven points. They have won all seven of their league games.

The four group matches between the clubs over the last two Champions League campaigns have produced 14 goals.

So over 3.5 goals at 13-10 is a fair bet, but Shakhtar to score in the first half at an attractive 23-10 with Coral is preferred.

Statistically it adds up. The Pitmen have scored 11 first-half goals in seven league matches while City have conceded in the first half of three of their last four Premier League assignments. Last season in the Champions League, eight of the 12 goals they let in were in the first 45 minutes, including both in their shock 2-1 opening-week loss at home to Lyon.

They were caught cold that night and the same could happen against a Shakhtar side who will try to operate on the front foot.

Luis Castro’s team are full of players who can score goals, none more so than Junior Moraes the 32-year-old Brazilian-born Ukrainian-qualified frontman who has scored seven goals in his last eight appearances.

A Roma target in the summer, he scored four goals in Europe last term as well as 19 in the Ukrainian Premier League. The home side’s in-form central striker at 11-1 to score first shouldn’t be sniffed at.

City are rightly favourites and could, of course, win this easily. But they looked jaded at Norwich on Saturday and defensive headaches might be lightly dismissed by Guardiola but they are an issue.

Don’t get overly bothered by the fact that Shakhtar are playing in Kharkiv rather than Donetsk. They have been there for almost three years now and are unbeaten in their domestic league for 13 months, so clearly it’s not a big deal.

Best bet
Over 0.5 Shakhtar first-half goals

The Football Site

Like on Facebook