Today the leagues two unbeaten sides go head-to-head in a showdown that will indicate exactly where the Premier League trophy is destined to go for the 2011-2012 season.
If we are going to win the league and take our rightful place at the summit of English football’s elite, then beating City convincingly away from home is a necessity.
OK maybe not. Our boys have begun this season with much higher standards than any of us could have believed during the summer. No matter what happens today, we can be fairly confident that the Magpies will be giving their all. That is all we expect and if we get anything at all out of the game then it will be both unexpected and greatly received by the Toon Army. So now for some team news:
Sergio Aguero (groin) is expected to be passed fit, but may be rested in order to keep him in shape for the key midweek Champions League encounter with Napoli. Owen Hargreaves (calf) has recovered but is not expected to feature. Captain Vincent Komapny is back from suspension whilst Carlos Tevez is still AWOL. Why would people want him at St. James’ Park again? Samir Nasri (tendonitis) is now a long term absentee.
Team from: Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Aleksander Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong, James Milner, Gareth Barry, David Silva, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, Stefan Savic, Gael Clichy, Adam Johnson, Pablo Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, Costel Pantilimon.
Cheik Tiote (knee) is out although a return against Manchester United next week is a possibility. Sylvain Marveaux (groin) is a long term loss following the decision to undergo surgery. Leon Best (groin) and Gabriel Obertan (toe) are both close to coming back, but this game will come too soon. Shola Ameobi (hamstring) is now fully fit. Mike Williamson (ankle) remains some way off match fitness.
Team from: Tim Krul, Rob Elliot, Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor, Davide Santon, Shane Ferguson, Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor, James Perch, Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Dan Gosling, Danny Guthrie, Hatem Ben Arfa, Mehdi Abeid, Haris Vuckic, Alan Smith, Demba Ba, Shola Ameobi, Peter Lovenkrands, Sammy Ameobi.
Stats and Facts:
Micah Richards’ four assists is twice as many as any other defender has managed this season.
David Silva has created 33 chances from open play for team-mates this season, more than any other player in the top flight. He and Samir Nasri have a league joint-high of six goal assists each.
Seven Newcastle players – including their goalkeeper and entire back four – have started all 11 league games this season.
Demba Ba has scored 15 Premier League goals in 2011. Only Robin van Persie (29) and Wayne Rooney (19) have scored more.
Yaya Toure is the league’s most prolific passer with 767 completed with an accuracy of 89%.
Man City have had more shots at goal than anybody with 181.
Yohan Cabaye is the League’s 4th best tackler. A success rate of 65% and 43 positive efforts shows he will put himself about.
Sergio Aguero has scored nine goals with a goals to shots ratio of 30%. Demba Ba is one goal short of this, but he requires less chances to put the ball away, with a goals to shots ratio of no less than 42%.
Newcastle have not won at City since 2000, when the great Alan Shearer got the only goal of the game. This was our only success away in this fixture since the Premier League began.
50% of all the goals the Magpies have conceded this season have been from set plays!
Davide Santon will be hoping for a start today. He will want to face his pal Mario Balotelli – the pair came through the ranks together at Inter Milan.
Man City have not climbed to the top of the league this season, they have coasted to it. The massive victory against Alex Ferguson’s men highlights this. They have dropped points only once so far, in the 2-2 draw at Fulham of all places. Their defence is watertight, 2nd only to ours in terms of goals conceded and their attacking prowess is obviously the league’s best, with 39 goals to show for their efforts.
They have spent a sinful amount of cash on players of the very highest calibre in recent seasons, ensuring that they have almost a couple of world class players for every single position. These players pretty much all seem to have adapted very well to the pace and physical side of the Premier League and a few of them are excelling at it – step forward Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
Added to that is a spine of English boys such as former Toon machine James Milner, Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott, who all have the passion and understanding to do well in this league. They seem to have got the balance right. Milner used to get criticised by a section of our fans for not producing enough, whilst some of us appreciated his workrate and never say die attitude. Since he has been away his game has stepped up and his attitude to hard graft remains intact. He would fit in so nicely here these days, it is a shame he was cashed in on.
It is hard to pinpoint any one or two particular players in the Citizens line up and come up with a ‘Cunning Plan’ (as Blackadder would say) to foil them and create a few problems of our own. Lets get this straight – Man City are absolutely lethal. Their defence is stubborn, their midfield is technically and creatively excellent and their forward line is envied across the entire planet. Am I making you feel optimistic yet?
We have a stubborn defence too, built on a growing understanding between Fabricio Coloccini (the brains) and Steven Talyor (the brawn). Ryan Taylor does well, but is heavily reliant on Jonas Gutierrez (the only player I have ever seen work as hard as Milner) to get back and cover him.
Another reason our defence is so good is the help Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye offer with their bite from midfield. Danny Guthrie will more than likely be stepping in for Tiote today and will do a good job for us with neat passes and an eye for goal, but we will miss Tiote’s power and influence today. We will also be forced to make other changes on the right, which means we will be lacking genuine pace from there unless Alan Pardew plays Davide Santon in that particular position.
Another problem for us is up front. Leon Best may make the bench, but is certainly not 100%. His hard work unsettling defenders and dropping deep has allowed Demba Ba to become one of the most prolific strikers in the league. If he is not fully fit, he should not play as his influence will be limited.
In light of that, I can finally see Ben Arfa getting a start today. He wont be helping out defensively, but is an obvious threat going forward. Let’s not forget this is the fixture in which Benny suffered his horrific double leg break after a ‘robust’ challenge by Nigel De Jong. Now that he is back to fitness, this game could be the perfect psychological boost for the lad. If he can get a start under his belt, face his demons in City and De Jong and put in a half decent performance, he could well be back to his best before too long. With Shola Ameobi now fit, but not match fit, I’d be tempted take take up the Benny option. Ameobi would be nice from the bench at the 70 minute mark…
City are likely to line up with a 4-5-1 formation, with the ability to change in an instant to a 4-3-3. That would see Yaya Toure and either Nigel De Jong or Gareth Barry acting as defensive midfielders, with David Silva and James Milner the wide players. Two from Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko or Sergio Aguero would be taking up the forward/attacking central midfielder roles.
The trouble with this formation and quality of player is how easily they can interchange with such fluidity. It makes man marking almost impossible and zonal marking confusing and tricky. City’s Silva and Milner have struck up a great understanding and will actively cut inside in order to link up for 1-2’s or drag players out of position and create space for others. Toure has it all, a genuine all rounder who will transform from defence to attack with ease. He has a great eye for a pass and is very imposing.
So how do we approach the game?
Too negative and they will prize us open and destroy us. I am impressed with our defence this term, but I don’t trust either of the two Taylor’s or Simpson to stay 100% focused for the full 90 minutes and not make at least one key mistake between them under the relentless pressure we are sure to face for more than one period during this game. It is not me being negative about our boys’ ability, City paid all that money for a reason.
Too ‘gung-ho’ and their pace, ability and efficiency in front of goal means we will be caught napping at least a couple of times. The only way in my opinion is to stay focused and disciplined, work hard for each other, take their time in the build up play and make the most of chances when they open up.
Trying to keep possession is obvious, but it will frustrate the blue half of Manchester and give them a sense of urgency. They will be desperate to get an early goal and assert themselves. They will be wary that we are an unbeaten side and a bit of an unknown quantity. If we can try and keep it tight for the first half an hour or so, utilising our quick countering ability to scare them occasionally then hopefully it will force them to take a more conservative, cautious approach. We will need to defend in numbers, including Ba – leaving only the likes of Ben Arfa up front as an outlet.
From there, we can begin to stretch them by keeping the ball. No long balls, they wont work. It’s all about short passes and players making themselves available. We can then force them back, where Aguero, Silva, even Milner to an extent will become redundant due to lack of defensive prowess. Once we get into their final third we will hit brick walls in the likes of Yaya Toure, De Jong, Lescott, Kompany and Richards. However if Ben Arfa plays we will have that creative spark along with Cabaye and Guthrie’s passing ability to thread the ball through the eye of the needle and make something happen. It is then up to Ba, Ameobi later on and Benny to find those chances when they come along. Guthrie, Ryan Taylor and Cabaye should all be encouraged to try long range strikes as we won’t be penetrating their penalty box too often.
So in essence we need to defend staunchly and in numbers to begin with, whilst ensuring we counter at every opportunity in order not to become dominated and give the Citizens too much confidence. If we can keep it level from there, we need to apply the pressure with a tight passing game and press high up the pitch so they cant get moving and we need to make sure we have a pop from long range whenever the right player gets the ball in a suitable position. Later on we will need to revert to our defensive stance as City will undoubtedly try everything to get a goal or two in the final minutes.
A word from Steven Taylor:
“We are testing ourselves against the best teams in the league, the best players in the world, but this is why you want to be a professional footballer, to be playing on the biggest stage against the best players.I keep reading, ‘they haven’t played anybody that’s going to test them’. Well, this is our chance and hopefully we can prove it.”
“Every player they have got can cause you problems. The main thing is not to be too wound up about it. We have to concentrate on our own jobs and do what we have been doing all season. We are not focusing too much on Manchester City, we are more concerned about our own game.”
A quiet confidence in the camp it seems…
48 year old Lancashire born Chris Foy takes charge of this one. He is one of the Premier League’s less used Referees this season having officiated four games so far. However, he has almost 30 years experience in the game and 10 years at the highest domestic level. He is an Everton fan, who has been involved at International level as a fourth official. He has taken charge of three games between ourselves and Man City. We have lost them all with a total goal difference of -7. Not a good sign!
The Citizens are strong and almost impossible to play. However, we are unbeaten for a reason. We have enviable team spirit and self belief along with a never say die attitude. The players we have available will be fresh, as International duty does not have too much of a significant impact on our underdogs. The majority of City’s players however, have been all over the world during the International ‘break’ and may show signs of fatigue. If there were ever an ideal time to play them in their own back yard, it is now.
Putting my sensible head on, this is a loss for us but I expect the boys to give a very good account of themselves and show the pundits and other clubs around us that we are no pushovers. If everything goes right, I think I speak for all of us when I say I’d be delighted if our boys can snatch a draw.
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: Saturday 19th November 2011
Kick-off: 3pm UK time
Howay the lads!