How do you beat a team like Man City? It’s not easy, but it is possible, especially if you have a few quick players who can finish counter-attacks off.
At Newcastle, we definitely have the quick players, but as you all know, we have issues finishing. We won’t get many chances against Man City, so any time we have an opportunity, either from a set-piece or a counter-attack, we’ll have to be clinical.
So how do we beat them? As Chelsea showed on Thursday night, you defend deep, and you finish your chances. Manchester United have done the same a couple of times. Defending deep is something our players are used to and fairly comfortable with, but taking our chances is proving much harder. The positives are that master goal-scorer and Newcastle’s tormenter-in-chief, Sergio Aguero, is not available. Jesus is a very good player, he works hard and he brings a lot to the team, but he does not have the out-and-out focus on scoring that Aguero does, and his finishing is not of the same standard.
The second player to be ruled out is the ever-reliable midfielder, turned centre-back, Fernandinho. Let’s not kid ourselves, City still have Laporte, Walker and Ederson. But their other defensive options have an error in them. If we get lucky, we may have a chance or two.
The other positive is the fact that referees seem to have caught on to City’s tactical fouling. They have had six players sent off this season, and if anyone gets booked early on, you’d hope that we target them. It is worth pointing out that City have had players sent off in 3 of their last 4 losses in the Premier League this season.
I’ve seen a lot of discussions on our line-up for the game already, notably Chris Waugh’s article in The Athletic, and various people suggesting that Schar should play in midfield. I disagree with this entirely, as I explained on Twitter.
However, Schar is a brilliant player, and he thrives in a back 5. There will not be many opportunities for him to go wandering up the pitch on Sunday, and we will need his long passes to trigger counter-attacks, so I’d stick him in, alongside Lascelles and Fernandez.
The trouble is that Lejeune, Dummett and Clark are all better suited to the LCB role than any of these three. As Fede showed on Wednesday night, his left-foot is non-existent. So our captain will have to be pushed left, with Fede in the centre, and Schar RCB. It should obviously be Dubravka in goal, but I think Darlow will start, as Bruce will show loyalty in the cup to the man who was all set to play prior to lockdown.
If Manquillo is fit enough to start, he goes in the RWB role. He’s not as quick as Yedlin, but he’s a much better defender.
Rose is our only option for LWB, and he had his best performance yet against Villa, so will start again.
The midfield needs legs, and if they were fit, I’d pick Hayden and Sean Longstaff. Unfortunately it’s not year clear if either will be able to start, so it seems Shelvey will start providing he does pass a late fitness test.
With the news that Bentaleb is set to miss the game through suspension, a lot depends on Hayden’s fitness when it comes to the man who could partner Jonjo. If he is unable to play, one of the Longstaff brothers, both short of match fitness themselves, will have to step up. It will not be easy, but both brothers have previously played well against the Manchester clubs.
Shelvey’s quality will be necessary to play long balls on the counter, and hopefully create a chance or two from a set-piece. He does tend to show up in these bigger games, so here’s hoping his motivation will lead to a goal, rather than a red card or total lack of tracking
The first-choice front three should start, fitness concerns aside. ASM (Allan Saint-Maximin) will be, realistically, our only threat. As shown by Pulisic in midweek, quick, tricky players are a threat that City are vulnerable too. Almiron’s work-rate and speed will be invaluable, too.
I know Joelinton is controversial (I love him), but he will rough up the City defenders, put himself about, and still be mobile enough to help the counter-attacks. Big Andy will be called upon if we’re still in the game with 20 minutes left.
As I say, my team above is fitness-depending, and realistically Lazaro may have to start in ASM’s place, Yedlin in Manquillo’s, and Gayle in Joelinton’s. I wouldn’t bother ‘resting’ players if they’re fit to start; it’s our biggest game of the season. But, unfortunately, we will risk injuries if players are already in the ‘red zone’ and are asked to play another 90. As seen with Ritchie and Hayden, players are already dropping like flies. Nonetheless, the tactic remains the same, sit deep, fight for every ball, and run really, really quick towards goal when we do get the ball.
(5-2-2-1): Darlow – Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Lascelles, Rose – Shelvey, Hayden – Saint-Maximin, Almiron – Joelinton.