My experience in predicting potential blow-away wins in soccer is limited.
Website bosses who run these blogs and stuff, they’re not usually interested in previews of Manchester United vs so-and-so from a lesser league in an FA Cup laugher. Though this season they actually might be, given that José Mourinho appears to be lost coaching the Red Devils, making all of their fixtures unpredictable.
The only unpredictable aspect of Man 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, 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, 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.
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. They’ll play again against Chelsea before hosting Hoffenheim from Germany’s Bundesliga on Wednesday the 12th. It will be the last of 6 group matches.
But there’s another nugget that makes the “routine” betting odds for this match seem just a little off, somehow.
Sky Blues vs Die Kraichgauer: Betting Lines and Handicapping
City struggled to get by Hoffenheim at Rhein-Neckar Arena. Hoffenheim didn’t do anything altogether out of the ordinary in the formation department, but beware of Fake News. Google’s scoreboard makes it appear to the masses as if the underdog hosts courageously lined-up mano-a-mano across from Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sané and Agüero.
But 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.
Did the opposing system, the setting, or the circumstances affect City? Who knows, but the terrific Algerian striker Ishak Belfodil scored in only the 1st minute, turning cheers into roars. The Sky Blues would have to slug their way to a 2-1 victory.
Silva’s winner was classic, but from the evidence of that battle, you’d think the betting lines would be just a little tighter for Wednesday’s match at Etihad Stadium.
BetOnline.ag gives the Sky Blues an almost-prohibitive (-625) moneyline next to a whopping (+1550) for Die Kraichgauer and (+580) on a 90+ minute draw. An Asian Handicap goal spread takes (-2, -2 ½) from City, while the straightforward goal total is (3 ½).
Those lines won’t be too far afield from other soccer betting sites over the next week. BetOnline even shares handicappers with other sportsbooks, and always keeps a steady eye on the overall action.
So it remains to ask – why is City such a heavy favorite in the round-robin finale, when the club yet needs a point to finish 1st in its group above the French team, and looked underwhelming against Watford on Saturday? Hoffenheim has some elite talent on the squad, and finished 3rd place in the German league last season. Man City has a new key injury to worry about.
Perhaps the answer isn’t to be gleaned from looking at the EPL side. Maybe the Vegas lines are stark because Hoffenheim got off to an awful start in Bundesliga and has looked even worse at times in UEFA. The visiting club’s domestic league is taking criticism for its thin ranks, and Nagelsmann may need a miracle to ward off a dreaded last-place finish in Group F.
The Proof is in the Streusel Cake
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 outside of the elite, there’s no backload of solid teams for the league to rely on.
Hoffenheim may prove to be just another club that bounces up and down between the margins while the champions continue to out-class the division. Recent Champions League play has exposed further systemic weaknesses on the roster.
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, look again and the squad hasn’t played all that badly in late autumn, especially in domestic matches. Hoffenheim has helped City hang around the top of the Group F standings via 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 respected, veteran GK who received praise for a clever assist 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.
City of Light
No doubt about it, Man City is ruling the Premier League. And the Champions League. And almost any other match the Sky Blues choose to grace with their presence.
So far, at least.
There were problems at Vicarage Road a short time ago. Despite scoring early tallies and possessing the football a lot, City was unable to pull away from Watford. A late goal from Abdoulaye Doucouré drove supporters wild and led to an anxious extra time period in City’s 2-1 win.
But to call Manchester City’s current run in the Premier League anything short of “electrifying” would be an understatement. The scoring stats are impressive almost across the lineup. The backline is capital, with John Stones lurking by the keeper’s side.
The keeper himself is the key to any 13-2-0 type of record, however, and 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.
Those weren’t easy matches to play, especially #1 and #3. Ederson is crafty with the ball, communicates with his backline, and does his side’s attack no harm.
Speaking of communication, though, 2 of City’s mainstays on the backline are facing distractions this week. 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.
Handicapping City vs Hoffenheim in Manchester
When there’s no obvious pick jumping off the board, go to the numbers, the percentages.
There are roughly 5 basic outcomes that could occur out of this UEFA match-up, each with more or less a 20% probability of happening:
#1 – City scores early and often, Hoffenheim tacks in a cheap goal late to save face in a 4-1 rout. The hosts win on the goal spread, on the moneyline, and for Over bettors.
#2 – Hoffenheim’s recent stoutness has been no fluke, and the German club challenges with waves of attackers. City counter-attacks and scores against Baumann, but the visitors create enough havoc to eke out a draw or at least a 1-goal loss. City wins on the ML, Hoffenheim ATS, and the total likely goes Under.
#3 – Pep plots a cautious tactical plan, hoping to steer his stars safely through an arduous time of the schedule. The match is drawn after 45, and City nurses a lead late to prevail 2-1 or 3-1 or gives up a surprise late goal (less likely) to lose. This is a toss-up outcome in practice because either side could win. As a 1-1 or 2-2 draw stands later and later in a match, the value of the next goal looms larger. Also, it’s hard to predict the total-goals result if City relaxes and plays well, but conservatively.
#4 – Hoffenheim takes a shocking lead at half. City roars back aggressively to win 4-2 or 5-2. Goal spread bettors who went with the favorites are likely happy, and the Over wins. Obviously, City takes the moneyline.
#5 – The entire match is intense and full of fouls and questionable play, as each side has experienced at times this season. By brute force and tactical superiority, City pulls away for a 4-2 or 4-3 type of result. Underdog goal-spread bettors likely win. City wins the ML. The total goes Over.
Hmm. Notice the betting win that seems to show up a lot?
Champions League: Recommended Bet on City vs Hoffenheim
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 of the above 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.
Once 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 these facts! 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.