Oxford United v Manchester City: First-goal line too low
Manchester City start hot favourites to beat Oxford on Sky Sports on Wednesday but Andy Schooler says they are far from certain to get off to a flyer.
Oxford United v Manchester City Wednesday December 18, 19:45 Live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event
League One meets Domestic Treble winners in Wednesday's televised Carabao Cup game and, you've guessed it, the latter are red-hot favourites.
As Manchester City's detractors often point out, their cup runs have been blessed with such fixtures in recent years and this tie comes after they waltzed through another soft Champions League group.
Last season's double cup success on home soil saw them face lower-league opponents no fewer than six times. Each match was won, as was another of a similar ilk in the third round of this season's League Cup - 3-0 at Preston.
City back on song
We all know it will take some stopping City, although rewind just a week and they were on a run of just two wins in seven, something which will offer Oxford a glimmer of hope.
They've since returned to form by crushing Dinamo Zagreb (4-1) and Arsenal (3-0) although neither side put up a great deal of resistance.
While many feel their Premier League title hopes are already gone this season, it's hard to believe Pep Guardiola and his squad will feel that way so surely he'll be making changes with a weekend clash at home to Leicester to follow.
While City regularly play the rotation game in this competition, the players they field are still nearly always well-known names. Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden have all started both ties this season, while Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling Riyad Mahrez and David Silva have also been named in XIs.
We are most likely to see academy members at the back - teenagers Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis started at Preston.
U's unbeaten run over
Whether Oxford, who currently sit eighth in the third tier, can take advantage of that is open to question.
They've failed to score in their last three with manager Karl Robinson suggesting after Saturday's 1-0 defeat at MK Dons that injuries were beginning to take their toll.
Top scorer James Henry missed that game but could return here, although midfielder Anthony Forde will remain sidelined.
Robinson and co should certainly not be too downbeat though.
That goal in Milton Keynes was the first conceded in five games, while the loss was the U's first in 19 matches in all competitions.
They've only lost once at the Kassam Stadium in the league this season, while their three League Cup ties here have seen Millwall, West Ham and Sunderland vanquished.
That's a pretty decent run of form all told and there's certainly enough to make at least a small case about Oxford becoming the first lower-league side to beat City since Wigan did so in the FA Cup in February 2018.
Like Oxford, the Latics were going well in League One at the time...
If you do fancy Oxford, they can be backed at 25.00 with the draw also a double-figure price at 11.00.
City are [1.14] shots to win in 90 minutes - something they did with ease here in this competition last season. On that occasion they ran out 3-0 victors, winning both halves.
The win-both-halves bet is one which is often an eye-catching way to back City at a much bigger price but a word of warning here - Guardiola's men have failed to do this in 10 of their last 11 away games against lower-league opponents, last year's clash here being the odd one out.
As ever, the over 2.5 goals bet when City are involved is one only for the big-hitters - it's a 1.26 chance with under 2.5 at 4.00.
Perhaps the latter will tempt some given Oxford's recent unbeaten run of 18 games saw them keep a clean sheet in 12 of them.
Clearly they are a pretty solid unit and, as already pointed out, they've kept it that way despite a recent dip in form.
It is this angle which leads to the best bet for the game.
Minutes to profit
The time-of-the-first-goal line has one of the lowest marks you'll see - 14 minutes. It's 5/6 either side.
This seems based on little else than the fact there are two divisions between the teams.
Yes, City did score early at Arsenal on Sunday but that was only the fourth time in 25 matches this season that they've opened the scoring inside 14 minutes.
Of course, all of those games were against, technically at least, higher-quality opponents but it's notable that only three of their last 12 games against lower-league opposition have featured a goal so early.
Narrowing things down even further, against teams in the third tier or lower, the most recent first goal times have been 51-26-5-36-79.
Finally, Oxford have conceded just two goals before the 14th minute this term, the last of them on August 17.
With plenty of statistical evidence suggesting the hosts can keep City out for 14 minutes, this looks the route to profit.
Oxford manager Karl Robinson has eliminated Premier League opponents five times in his managerial career, seeing his side score exactly four goals in every match - MK Dons 4-3 Blackpool (League Cup, 2010), Norwich 0-4 MK Dons (League Cup, 2011), QPR 2-4 MK Dons (FA Cup, 2013), MK Dons 4-0 Man Utd (League Cup, 2014) and Oxford 4-0 West Ham (League Cup, 2019).