Newcastle United 0-1 Manchester City
United we stand…
A home game against Manchester City had to come around eventually but on the back of a 17 game winning run this one was hardly an ideal follow up last weekends vital win against West Ham.
A war of attrition would follow for the Magpies that although ultimately would prove fruitless in terms of points, would prove strangely satisfying for those who braved the December cold to cheer their local hero’s on.
The quality that Manchester City team process in their ranks now is, quite frankly, scary. And City’s line up contained several of their A List players including De Bruyne, Aguero and Sterling from the start. And when Kompany had to leave with the latest injury of his ever growing list the intent from City boss Pep Guardiola was further emphasised with the introduction of Jesus to the party!
For Rafa the plan was clear. 11 behind the ball, fight for everything and try and hang on for long enough to give the lads a chance to have a go in the last 10 minutes. And it almost worked!
Benitez had rung the changes for this one. At first glance it seemed like he was perhaps resting players for the weekend clash with Brighton, but on further inspection it was clear that there was a plan. Pace on the flanks, either side of three centre halves, with wing backs. More pace on the flanks in more advanced positions. Diame too included from the start was perhaps a shock to many, also turned out to be a positive inclusion.
STARTING XI: Elliot, Yedlin, Mbemba (Merino, 77), Lascelles, Dummett, Manquillo, Aarons (Atsu, 71), Diame, Shelvey, Murphy, Joselu (Gayle, 62)
City started like a train and almost went ahead as early as the 7th minute when a Fernandinho cross found Aguero free at the back post but his effort crashed against the upright.
There would be no let up from the blues. Now camped in Newcastle’s half with even Joselu just 10 yards from the edge of his own box.
Time after time City would probe, but it would take until the 31st minute for them to make the breakthrough. This time De Bruyne with a delicious dink over the Newcastle backline and the finish from Sterling.
Newcastle were almost level just before the break when Aarons found time and space following a Yedlin cross to chip Ederson, only to see his effort cleared off the line.
80% possession for City int he first half though told its own story.
Not for 1/3 of a year had City not scored more than one goal in a league game, but as the second half started and drifted on the Magpies were still hanging on.
And with 15 minutes left the Magpies finally came out of their shell. This change in mentality was signified by the introduction of Merino for Mbemba, AT CENTRE HALF.
Long balls, get the City boys turned around facing their own goal and hunt in packs. And for 10 crazy minutes it looked like Newcastle might just get the equaliser. And on 75 minutes they could, and perhaps should have.
A ball into Gayle’s feet after another moment of panic at the rear allowed the Newcastle number 9 to sprint into the City box, but instead of getting his shot away the Magpies forward decided to anticipate the coming challenge in the box and go down. The result, a yellow for Gayle, a blatant dive. What was he doing!
Newcastle pushed again before the end but couldn’t fashion the one clear chance they would need to find the illusive goal required for an unlikely point.
The performance was, for those loyal to Newcastle, a significant and morale boosting one, despite the result.
The criticism from commentators and pundits alike of Newcastle’s ultra defensive performance will only serve to strengthen the siege mentality that seems to be growing at the club of late, and further the bond between our manager and the fans.
Whilst the watching footballing world seemed not to enjoy the ‘anti football’ one bit. We will take those sorts of spirited performances all season thank you. Whilst the watching Southgate can’t help but have been impressed by yet another captains performance from Lascelles - surely!