Manchester City were resoundingly stuffed by a bunch of Canaries at the end of last season as their goose was well and truly under cooked with an insipid defence of their Premier League crown.
Now, under new management, City can do their best ‘phoenix from the ashes’ impression by killing off a murder of Magpies as the curtain goes up on a hugely promising new campaign at the Etihad Stadium.
It never does to under estimate your opponents in the PL – just ask Arsene Wenger – but prima facie, Manuel Pellegrini could not have wished for a better fixture to commence his domestic quest for City’s second title in three years.
City have been quite magnificent in chalking up seven consecutive wins over the Geordies since the last time they were forced to share the spoils – a 2-2 draw at St James’s Park in October 2008.
You have to go back seven years and 11 months since the Barcodes last scanned City for maximum points, when a certain Michael Owen scored in Newcastle’s 1-0 win in September 2005.
All very interesting I’m sure, but City’s new Chilean manager will be focused on the here and now and the immediate future as he seeks to reclaim the PL crown from the fertilizing bunch over in Trafford.
Manure – oops sorry, manners – Manchester United, hit the ground running when they plucked the Swans – bit of a feathery theme emerging here – in a resounding 4-1 win over the weekend. Ostensibly, still Fergie’s team, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the title credentials of the swamp dwellers.
The quintessential difference is that this is now a re-shaped, re-energised City squad – boosted by an influx of top drawer talent – and seemingly rejuvenated following the controversial departure of fans’ favourite Roberto Mancini.
Pellegrini has a wealth of managerial experience, is tactically savvy, has great man-management skills and – on face value – seems very astute in the transfer market, working in concert with City CEO Ferran Soriano and Sporting Director Txiki Begiristain.
With the transfer window remaining open until 2nd September, Pellegrini appears keen to further boost a squad already hugely reinforced by the arrival of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic.
It’s no secret that Real Madrid ‘tough guy’ central defender Pepe was – or still is – a top target. The vastly experienced 30-year old Portuguese defender is often labelled the bad guy in the El Classico clashes with Barcelona.
Definitely uncompromising, but equally effective, City still harbour hopes of getting their man for something in the region of £20m.
It may appear a high price considering his age BUT, if it’s the difference between advancement deep into the latter stages of the Champions League or another ignominious Group stage exit – it suddenly becomes a sage-like investment.
City have been major players in the transfer market and now possess a midfield and attack bristling with creativity, power and vitality. Pellegrini is quick to confirm that Fernandinho’s signature was the one most sought this summer, and the indefatigable Brazilian will be pivotal to City’s aspirations and ambitions this season.
In contrast, Newcastle’s almost unique ability to shoot themselves in the foot has limited under pressure manager, Alan Pardew, to the solitary loan-signing of QPR striker Loic Remy – subsequently ruled out with a calf injury for the first month of the season.
The somewhat cavalier and potentially calamitous appointment of the oh-so eloquent and articulate Joe Kinnear, as Newcastle’s Director of Football, is another example of Mike Ashley’s love-hate relationship with the passionate Toon support. Just as he seems to be in calmer water he whips up another perfect storm.
Hopefully history will repeat itself and City will be as cool as a box of mints at the final whistle ‘After Eight’ consecutive wins over their prey from the North East.
Pellegrini has a full strength squad from which to choose – bar the superb Matija Nastasic – albeit the prodigious Serbian centre back could be back from injury much sooner than anticipated.
Having experimented in pre-season with a leaky back three formation, the new boss may revert to a more conventional back four, optimising the forward play of full backs, Richards or Zabaleta on the right and most likely, Clichy on the left.
Captain Kompany and Lescott should sit at the heart of the defence – at least for now – unless Pepe signs and dislodges the England man in the final year of his contract.
Fernandinho and Yaya will provide an ‘engine room’ that will be the envy of the PL and then where to begin with the goal-makers and takers of Milner, Nasri, Navas, Silva, Jovetic, Aguero, Negredo and Dzeko.
Rodwell, Garcia and young guns Guidetti, Boyata, Razak and Lopes will all be looking for appearances, but it looks like the exit door for the splendid but ageing Gareth Barry, the superfluous Scott Sinclair and most perplexingly, Denis Suarez, who could be Barcelona bound.
The fate of Aleksander Kolarov – as deadly as an AK47 with that sizzling left foot but with obvious defensive vulnerabilities – remains contentious, with Juventus hovering with a projected £11m bid.
On paper City have the strongest squad in the PL. The same could have been said at this stage of last season with Tevez and Balotelli still in sky blue… and we all know how that turned out!
Nonetheless there simply has to be ground for heaps of optimism this season so let’s all #TrustOur MP!
By David Walker (#Read But Never Red www.rbnr.co.uk)@djwskyblu
As a special one-off appearance, 17-year old Newcastle United fan and aspiring writer Adam Dunwoodie, asked if I would publish his VIEW FROM A TOON & look at the opening fixture from the opponents perspective. Here are Adam’s observations:
Monday Night Premier League football on Sky begins with a face off between the club with overflowing pockets and the club, or should that be owner, with the tightest pockets.
But that’s enough about off the pitch analogies, it’s what happens on the pitch that United and City fans really care about .
Newcastle have had a torrid last 14 games with City and have never managed a win. City are certainly not a side to be messed with, especially on their home turf, but let’s indulge the Toon Army and see how the Magpies can be a threat.
Simply put, Newcastle fans have no idea what will happen on the tactics front. Last season we were tactically clueless and this season a wide variety of different tactics have been used.
If I was going to hazard a guess to how we will start the season then this would be our line up:
A 4-2-3-1 with these positions:
GK Tim Krul
RB Mathieu Debuchy
CB Steven Taylor
CB Fabricio Coloccini
LB Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa
CM Cheick Tiote
CM Yohan Cabaye
RW Hatem Ben Arfa
AM Moussa Sissoko
LW Jonas Gutierrez
ST Papiss Cisse
Hatem Ben Arfa:
On his day he is a fantastic player and a great threat on the wing or cutting inside. Full of trickery but injury prone and inconsistent.
Central to everything, He dictates our tempo and passing revolves around him. He is our Xavi. He can, however, be over zealous in the challenge.
If pre-season form is anything to go by then this could be his season. He has scored 4 goals in 5 games. On his day, Shola is a great player and his aerial ability can cause untold problems for opponents. He will probably start on the bench but is more often than not brought on if we need a goal late on.
We cannot keep possession. When we are pressed high up the pitch we seem to not know what to do and resort to hitting long aimless passes to Cisse, which more often than not cause us to lose what little possession we had.
City’s creative players like Samir Nasri and David Silva will find gaps in our shaky defence. We have marauding full backs and fast wingers, but this exposes us at the back where one of our centre backs will have to deal with a striker AND a winger on the break. Bad news for The Toon.
Can we beat City?
On our day we can win beat any team but.. . the best we can hope for is a draw. City have a much better squad and every individual will want to show how good they are to impress new manager Manuel Pellegrini. It is made even more difficult for us to win when Alan Pardew will probably pack the midfield and play on the counter rather than try and get on the front foot.
Prediction – Manchester City 4 – Newcastle United 1
Adam is on twitter @adunwoodie1995