AaB V Manchester City
19 March 2009 20:00 Kick Off (live in Channel 5)
Tonight’s clash between Aalborg and Manchester City sees the blues travel to Denmark for the third time in this season’s UEFA Cup campaign. Despite the undeniable gulf in class between Danish and English football, it’s proved anything other than plain sailing for City thus far.
A late, late Ched Evans header and a subsequent penalty shootout victory at FC Midtylland back in August allowed a narrow entry into the group stages of the competition coupled with last month’s labourious 2-2 draw in Copenhagen should ensure there’s no complacency among the players.
Awaiting City though should they complete the task in hand is, for the first time in over 30 years, a place in the last eight of European competition. With heavyweights AC Milan and Valencia eliminated in the last round and City now the bookmakers’ favourite to lift the trophy, a belief is emerging that this could be the year to end a 33 year wait for glory. ‘Istanbul, Istanbul we are coming’ has been echoing from the terraces all season and should a victory be secured tonight it will ring out with a lot more realism. Hope will turn to expectation.
Cautious optimism must surely be applied though. Many, many times over the years when faith has emerged from the shadows of despair it has died out not long after its conception- if any club could write the book on abject disappointment and failure it is Manchester City. Many thought the arrival of Billionaire Sheikh Mansour would see an end to the heartbreak but we’ve learned quite quickly that the curse is still well and truly alive- domestic cup defeats to Brighton and Nottingham Forest indicative that some things never change.
But what of our opponents? Aalborg have won their domestic league title three times, all in the last fifteen years and have participated in the last 32 of the Champions League twice, albeit without much success.
A well known figure in English football and the man responsible for bringing Dennis Bergkamp to the country whilst in charge at Arsenal, Bruce Rioch managed Aalborg between June and October of last year, his firing a consequence of a run of two wins in their first ten games of the season. Hans Backe, assistant to Sven Goran Eriksson at City last season, also managed the club for a two year period in the 1990s and guided them to one of their three league titles. Current manager, Swedish Magnus Pehrsson, meanwhile has less illustrious links with England- as a player he made just one appearance for Bradford City before swiftly returning to his homeland.
Whilst there aren’t many household names in the current squad, the name Luton Shelton will haunt many of you without doubt- to recap, this is the Jamaican striker, formerly of Sheffield United, who gave messieurs Dunne and Corluka the run around in our cup tie with the Blades last season, and even scored in the infamous ‘balloongate’ game at Bramall Lane. Otherwise, Anders Due has a reputation as one of the best wingers in Denmark whilst Brazilian midfielder Cacá (no relation of our more illustrious friend in Milan) is capable of moments of magic- he scored a game changing goal in Aalborg’s game with Celtic in this season’s Champions League which cemented his side’s third place and subsequent UEFA Cup qualification.
PREDICTION- While City’s inconsistency away from home domestically is well documented, the side have been a different proposition in Europe- a hugely impressive win in Schalke still sticks in the memory and even without expensive January recruits Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong the Blues should have enough to see out the threat of Aalborg- whilst they are a decent side, a two goal deficit means they will be obliged to attack. The likes of Shaun Wright-Philips and Stephen Ireland should be able to exploit the space and form dangerous counter attacks. With this in mind it should be an open game with plenty of opportunities, but I’m predicting a 2-1 win to City on the night and a 4-1 overall aggregate victory. Here’s hoping!
Many thanks to Colin The King of ManCityFans.Net for writing this preview.