There’s lies, damned lies and statistics, but if Manchester City could have chosen their opening fixture opponents Manuel Pellegrini would most likely have plumped for the Magpies.
An away win for the Champions today would make it 10 wins out of the last 10 Premier League games against Newcastle, stretching City’s unbeaten league run to 16 when facing The Toon.
Pellegrini kicked off his managerial career in England with a resounding 4-0 Monday night massacre of the Barcodes at the Etihad last August, but his most recent experience with the Geordies was Alan Pardew’s raging foul-mouthed rant when he called the cool Chilean a “ f*cking old c*nt” as City won 2-0 at St James’s Park in January.
It was a tempestuous affair with a Cheick Tiote ‘goal’ controversially disallowed and Yanga Mbiwa somehow managing to avoid a straight red card for a horror tackle on Samir Nasri.
Unruffled and suitably chilled, the man from Santiago says he bears no grudge against the lout from London and, in typical Pellegrini fashion, prefers his stylish brand of football to do his talking.
Hopefully that can be achieved against a backdrop of mutual respect today, as both sets of fans join in 17th minute applause to remember tragic Toon fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney.
The pair were killed en-route to Newcastle’s pre-season tour of New Zealand last month, when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine by Russian separatists.
No doubt the travelling City support will live up to their well earned ‘Impeccables’ reputation and honour the memory of fellow football fans who set out to watch their team, but never returned.
Back to matters on the pitch, City, despite the loss of Alvaro Negredo to a broken foot and the non-inclusion of record defensive signing Eliaquim Mangala, are hot favourites to continue their winning ways today.
Last weekend’s disappointing display in the Community Shield may well have dampened down new Argentine goalkeeper Willy Caballero’s challenge to start over Joe Hart.
Hart, who suffered a mid-season blip in form last year, came roaring back to his best before claiming his second Premier League winning medal in three seasons, must surely start.
Fresh from the highs of fatherhood – Joe’s fiancée Kimberley gave birth to their son, Harlow, this week – the England number one would have every right to feel aggrieved if not selected.
The exertions of the World Cup could see Sergio Aguero miss out on a first team start, 35 days after he shed tears of anguish as Argentina lost to Germany in the Final.
Carrying an injury throughout the tournament, he may be confined to the bench with the ink only just dry on his new five-year commitment to City.
His countrymen Zabaleta and Demichelis should return with captain Kompany and pre-season skipper Kolarov in defence.
New signing, defensive midfielder Fernando, will add steel and ball winning capabilities to the City cause, against what threatens to be an industrious and radically reshaped Newcastle.
With David Silva and Samir Nasri providing the flair, Yaya the attacking drive, Pellegrini will rely on Balkan duo Dzeko and Jovetic on his frontline.
Dzeko is just days from continuing the glut of City stars signing contract extensions, whereas Jovetic is as good as a new signing after an injury-plagued debut season.
It’s a measure of City’s ever deepening strength in depth that the sub’s bench will feature players of the calibre of James Milner, Fernandinho, Frank Lampard, Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Jesus Navas, Caballero and the soon-to-be match fit Sergio. It can only be seven at a time and that’s before The Beast comes back into contention along with Mangala.
Despite the imposition of UEFA Financial Fair Play sanctions, Txiki Begiristain and Manuel Pellegrini have been very astute in City’s summer transfer dealings.
Operating well within the £49m transfer budget restrictions, they have addressed a perceived weakness at centre back with Mangala– albeit Demichelis came good in the second half of the season – and an injury free Nastasic can hopefully fulfil his rich potential.
Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell have departed for a combined £23m and Fernando – an upgrade on both – recruited at half the price.
Previous big earners, veterans Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry have gone and the move to new long term, massive bonus incentivised contracts, means the basic salaries have tumbled…all good news for FFP.
Pellegrini is bang on when he says he has a stronger squad than last season to meet the challenge from, in particular, big-spending Chelsea, a more threatening Arsenal, a Suarez-less but re-stocked Liverpool and…no, I can’t think of any other credible title challengers!
Confidence is one thing, arrogance is another and Pellegrini is wise and sage like enough to ensure his team never lose sight of the difference.
The first game of the season always throws up at least one big surprise – just ask King Louis of Trafford after yesterday’s swansong.
City will be out to bag a bird themselves on Tyneside and make sure the Magpies don’t pinch anything nice and shiny, like three precious Premier League points.
By David Walker
Dedicated to the memory of John Alder and Liam Sweeney who died doing what most true football fans love to do – follow their team over land and sea.
A special mention also to a fellow City Blue – Stuart Hunt – who almost didn’t make it to today after a motorbike accident yesterday – speedy recovery fella 😉 #LuckyHunt!
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