Like Chelsea last week, Manchester City are there for the taking if Newcastle United are brave in the hunt.
They say that animals are at their most dangerous when wounded, but the threat level depends on the extent of the injuries.
Chelsea arrived at SJP without the snarling Diego Costa, but were still expected to savage a meek and toothless United side. Instead, the hosts tore open the defence’s psychological scars. The Blues were lucky to limp away into the night with a draw.
Can we tame another of the Premier League’s unsettled beasts in similar fashion?
Manchester City have looked similarly imbalanced in their two most recent outings. They may have bounced back from that 4-1 hiding at Spurs with a last-gasp victory in Germany, but the Citizens would’ve been contemplating two heavy defeats on the trot had Joe Hart not been in such inspired form between the sticks.
Unlike the champions, who are suffering a serious and prolonged crisis of confidence, City’s maladies are more physical than mental. Their physio room is particularly cramped, Yaya Toure joining another seven players requiring treatment. Although the big Ivorian is a miss – replacement Fernando doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of the opposition – it is the massive Vincent Kompany-shaped hole in defence that has hurt City the most.
Much like John Terry, Kompany is the beating heart of the back four, his organisational skills a crucial factor in City’s success. And, much like his Chelsea counterpart, his absence is very keenly felt.
With Mangala nursing a muscle injury, Otamendi and Demichelis have stepped up to fill the respective voids. The all-Argentine partnership hasn’t exactly been a success so far, the older of the two looking particularly clumsy against Monchengladbach.
Without their captain, City are all at sea at the back, and their midfield offered little help when Die Fohlen hit them on the break. At times, the Bundesliga strugglers were running towards a back three, Kolarov’s attacking proclivities affording attackers acres of space down the flank. Without a defensive leader in the starting eleven, Manchester City are there for the taking – even at the Etihad, as West Ham proved a fortnight ago.
Wounded they may be, literally and figuratively, but City still pack a punch going forward.
Sergio Aguero has only scored once in open play this season, but was a constant danger on Wednesday, unlucky not to get on the scoresheet before tucking away the latest of spot-kicks. Nobody will welcome the return of the magical David Silva more than Kun, and with Sterling and De Bruyne now joining the attack (the less said about Jesus Navas the better), the so-called ‘fab four’ will keep United’s own backline very honest indeed.
How can Newcastle take something from the Etihad? It’s simple, really: perform in the same manner as they did for much of the previous game.
Keep it tight further back, hit City on the counter, and exploit that exposed right flank. As it happens, almost half of United’s attacks last Saturday came down that very channel. Those trademark runs forward by Janmaat – and a more incisive performance from Sissoko out wide – will be key on Saturday afternoon.
The Sky Blues have hardly been proficient at defending set-pieces of late, either. Pellegrini’s side have conceded four goals in as many games from dead ball situations.
Mitrovic has already looked a handful in the air, and with the big Serb warranting plenty of attention from centre-halves, there ought to be more opportunities for others to nod home a corner or two.
While City have plenty of key men missing, Newcastle have a couple of injury concerns of their own – most notably Jack Colback.
The 25-year-old is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he worked his socks off against Chelsea before coming off with a knock, and that kind of endeavour would have been particularly welcome in Manchester, where the central threat of Toure and Silva needs nullifying.
The alternative is Cheick Tiote, the antithesis to what the ginger Geordie offers in terms of attitude and commitment. If ever there was a time for the purportedly poisonous Ivorian to prove his worth to the club, this is surely it.
If United approach the game in cautiously positive fashion, much like Monchengladbach did a few days ago, the chances ought to come. Manchester City are particularly vulnerable at present, and Newcastle should go in for the kill when the right moments arise.
Conversely, they can’t afford big-game predators like Toure, Silva and Aguero the time and space to get their claws into the game. Sit too deep, and the hunters will become the hunted.
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