Champions League football at the Etihad Stadium is going to feel completely different this season. For the first time in their history, Manchester City know what it feels like to be European champions, and for the first time under Pep Guardiola, they enter the group stages without any pressure on them. The burden was a heavy one, but now Man City belong to that exclusive club of European champions, they can feel emboldened to play with easy self-assurance.
Assuming Bakhar does the same with Red Star, Man City should cruise to a simple home win, especially given their Serbian opponents have lost each of their last two away matches domestically. The signs are ominous then, and indeed so one-sided is this fixture that Man City are likely to rotate a few players in the hope of keeping everyone fit amid one of the calendar’s most gruelling months.
Pep to rotate? Guardiola left Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri on the bench in a 5-0 home win over Copenhagen in last season’s group stage, indicating he is not afraid to take that slight risk. Kalvin Phillips, Matheus Nunes, Sergio Gomez, and Rico Lewis will all be hopeful of getting a rare start, although in the final third, Guardiola is short of options to rotate. Assuming Red Star don’t sit back, Man City fans can be hopeful of Jeremy Doku picking up where he left off at West Ham United, dribbling straight through them and scoring in a 3-1 win. No matter who starts, Man City are very heavy favourites. The two clubs might have one European Cup each in their trophy cabinet (Red Star were champions in 1991), but Man City are considerably more powerful in the modern game.
Defender Kyle Walker, who recently signed a new deal with City, says he is looking forward to what the next three years will bring. "Why would I want to leave this great team?" Walker told the club's official website. “For me, it was just about the years [on the contract]. I’m 33 years young and I still feel great. For me it was about settling in, I didn’t really want to sign another year to then have this conversation again next year. I wanted to be settled not just for me, but for my family as well. “I want to stay at this club for as long as possible, because why would I leave a team that’s gone on and won three Premier Leagues in a row, a Treble, and a Champions League?"