Manchester City

Pep should turn to City understudies given Schalke's luck has run out

 • by Mark Thompson
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Cup rotation. Noun. The act of changing one’s starting line-up for cup competitions as the stakes, or quality of opposition, is significantly lower than in league competition; often perceived as a slight on the former or the latter (or both).

Manchester City could be one of the few teams to justifiably cup-rotate on Wednesday night when they take on Schalke in the Champions League round of 16.

City are locked in a race for the title, with the chance to win silverware – albeit the League Cup – at the weekend. The German club are, meanwhile, locked in a battle for… midtable in the Bundesliga.

Domenico Tedesco’s team are 14th in the German top flight at the time of writing, with their Champions League run one of their few sources of pride this season.

Schalke don’t have a single player who’s scored five or more league goals this season. Man City have eight.

But wait!

Let’s inject some extra context. Schalke finished second in the Bundesliga last year, but there’s reason to believe that that was a freak occurrence. Based on the quality of chances they created and conceded, Football Whispers’ expected goals model estimates that Schalke should have finished eighth.

So in 2017/18 they were getting the rub of the green. In 2018/19 they are not; this season Schalke have only scored just 19 times from open-play chances worth 27.29 expected goals.

All of their luck this season came in the draw for the group stage. Porto, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moscow helped them to get to 11 points and the round of 16.

A Burtonesque 9-0 is unlikely, though. Schalke above anything else, are built on a strong defence. Despite their league position, they have the joint-seventh-best defensive record in the Bundesliga this term and the fourth-best on expected goals.

That said, they’re still conceding chances worth more than one expected goal per game. That doesn’t bode well against a team who are creating the most expected goals per game in Europe.

Homecomings 

This match will be a return for a handful of players. Matija Nastasić, who left City in 2015, is a big part of the strong defence under Tedesco.

A year later, Leroy Sané moved in the opposite direction, and İlkay Gündoğan — although not a former Schalke player nor Schalke fan — grew up in Gelsenkirchen.

Is there any case for Schalke?

Perhaps they can take heart in City’s earlier struggles in the Champions League, with a draw and defeat against Lyon. There was then the wobble that City had in December, of course.

And then, uh… well, City have won 12 of their 13 matches in all competitions since then. There does not, really, seem to be much reason to think City will lose this.

May as well tune in to Atlético Madrid vs Juventus instead.

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