As Newcastle United gear up for their away battle to Manchester City – a ground we typically struggle at – there has been plenty of talk about our performance at home to Chelsea last weekend and what exactly this means for us as our seasons progresses. Some have seen the improved performance as indication of how we have turned a corner; characterised by the excellent performances of Perez, Mitrovic and the Premier League debutant Kevin Mbabu. While there are others who think that this was a single performance against a weak and beatable Chelsea side and that it was disappointing that we couldn’t secure all 3 points despite being 2-0 up with 20 minutes to go.
Personally I can see both sides of the argument, but would remain firmly in the latter camp. While it was exciting to see good link up play between Perez and Mitrovic upfront together question marks still remain over Mitrovic’s attitude and discipline. Furthermore, if either or (god forbid) both got injured, then we’re left woefully short up front. Again, while it was brilliant to see Kevin Mbabu perform brilliantly in his debut – after all he had Champions League/La Liga/European Cup/World Cup winner Pedro in his back pocket! With players who can play like this, I think we need to ease them into the team slowly, learning from experienced senior players rather than throw them into the deep end. It has been too long since we have blooded a youngster into the first team, so I’d rather we give Mbabu space to learn his trade and come into the team slowly.
Outside of these positives some things need to be mentioned. In the past few seasons we have traditionally gotten good results against Chelsea at home. Last season we beat them 2-1, and the season before that we beat them 2-0. I don’t need to tell anyone that despite these good results, we went on to have less than stellar seasons, therefore a good result at home to Chelsea has not typically been something alien to us, or indicative of our ability to kick on and have a strong season. If one were being highly critical, one could say that last weekend’s result is actually worse than the results we’ve secured in previous seasons. Finally, I don’t care who you’re playing against, whether that’s Chelsea, or Bayern Munich or Barcelona – if you are 2 goals to the good with 20 minutes to go, you should be winning the game 9 times out of 10 (if not 10 times out of 10) Improved performance or not, it was a symptomatic failure to not secure 3 points.
Moving on from the Chelsea game people are wondering if we can put in a similar performance away from home against a Manchester City side, who after a rapid start to the season are showing signs of frailty in recent games. Following disappointing results in the league in recent weeks against Spurs and West Ham, it has been shown that this is a beatable Man City side. This is also a side who had a tough mid-week game against Borussia Monchengladbach where only a last minute penalty from Aguero secured the 3 points. They will be without their key man in the backline Vincent Kompany, and the pairing of Demichelis/Otamendi doesn’t look convincing, and the young Mangala is inexperienced at this level despite looking good in a few early games this season. Spurs hammering Man City last weekend exposed some key frailties in the current City side so they can be beaten if teams go out to have a go, but I will quickly say that I think we will be easily turned over by Manchester City.
This is not down to being overly negative, rather it is because I do not think that our improved performance against Chelsea means anything. We have been dreadful at the back but for our away performance against Manchester United. We are lacking the ability to take care of the ball in midfield and have struggled to get our flair players like Wijnaldum and Perez on the ball. A poor Chelsea side gifted us possession last weekend, but we will not be afforded the same luxury this weekend. City also have players on the bench whom they can call upon to change games and we simply do not have the strength in depth to cope with either their pace or power. The likes of Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne will have a field day with the ball at their feet, while their front men will no doubtedly afforded acres of space to play around us. We may have a chance if we can get the ball forward to Perez and Mitrovic to trouble this weakened City back line, but this will mean we need an epic shift from Mitrovic, Perez and Wijnaldum. The key will be to work, work, work to even have a chance. I’m not convinced we’ll do what we need to do to secure even a point here.
My predictions? An easy home win to get City’s season back on track and to derail the previous (false) optimism that many have attached to this “new and improved” Newcastle United side. 3-0 (at least)