Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku is back firing and Josko Gvardiol is the perfect antidote for Erling Haaland… Man City continue to chase elusive Champions League win, but Pep Guardiola already knows RB Leipzig is a sterner test than most
- Man City face RB Leipzig in the Champions League last-16 on Wednesday
- The teams played out two gripping encounters in last season’s group stage
- With Leipzig having Nkunku and Gvardiol, Pep Guardiola’s City will be tested
If last year’s meetings with RB Leipzig are an indicator of what might follow over the coming weeks, then Manchester City are in for a game. They yielded 12 goals and Leipzig scored five of them.
City are attempting to reach a sixth consecutive Champions League quarter-final and will hope that this season is the one when they go on and lift the whole thing.
Yet while Leipzig might appear a gentler opponent than others in the draw – City could have been pitted with Paris Saint-Germain – this should represent a sterner examination than at the last-16 stage in the majority of previous campaigns.
There is certainly more quality in the German side than the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Monchengladbach, Schalke and Basel – all of whom have been knocked out by the Premier League champions. Having to beat the might of Real Madrid in the first knockout round in 2020 was an outlier.
Leipzig’s trip at the Etihad Stadium last year ended 6-3. City were never truly in control of it, allowing them to chip away at them in such a way that when Christopher Nkunku completed a hat-trick, with 17 minutes left, it looked like the visitors were going to snatch a draw.
Pep Guardiola will be aware that RB Leipzig are capable of testing his Manchester City side
Leipzig have Christopher Nkunku up front, who netted a hat-trick against City last season
They also have Josko Gvardiol, who had a standout World Cup for Croatia in Qatar
It was pure end-to-end drama all evening, with Leipzig able to quickly hit City and hurt them from transitions in midfield. Pep Guardiola’s are still vulnerable to pace on the break, and Nkunku returning from a lengthy injury lay-off, registering an assist during the weekend victory over Wolfsburg, is a major boost for Marco Rose.
The France international is expected to join Chelsea when his £53million release clause becomes active in the summer. He has 17 goals in 24 appearances this term after scoring 35 in all competitions last year.
There are threats for City to be wary of, evidenced when Leipzig won this encounter 2-1 at the Red Bull Arena in the return fixture. It was a dead rubber – City having already cemented top place in the group – but Guardiola went with a strong team on a night when Kyle Walker saw red for kicking Andre Silva.
‘We will study Leipzig, a very tough opponent,’ Guardiola said after the disappointing draw at Nottingham Forest. ‘We suffered there two years ago and we know how good they are. Their physicality is amazing, with the runners, and now it is to recover the players as much as possible.’
Despite recently suffering a first defeat since September, Leipzig remain in the most absorbing title race for a while, four points off three-way leaders Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Union Berlin. Their record since Rose took the reins from Domenico Tedesco five months ago has been exemplary, beating Real in that time.
Rose is also no stranger to Erling Haaland, having coached the striker at both Red Bull Salzburg and Dortmund. Haaland developed hugely under Rose, with Josko Gvardiol likely the man tasked to deal with him.
Erling Haaland is unlikely to find it easy to get the better of Gvardiol on Wednesday
Gvardiol has admirers across Europe – admitting this week that he wants to play in the Premier League after last summer’s interest from Chelsea – and whose stock rose significantly at the World Cup with Croatia.
Leipzig can be open at the back, even with the likes of stalwart Lukas Klostermann, but with Nkunku have a new dimension going forward. His output helps both Silva and Timo Werner, who have probably not scored enough goals – seven each.
Neither has Dani Olmo, who has been missing through injury. Emil Forsberg has a habit of popping up with big moments when knitting everything together.
City will need to be crisp in possession, protective of the ball, if they are to thwart the obvious dangers that Rose’s team possess. With Guardiola, you would think that there is little chance of underestimating them.
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