A bit like the unwanted present still left under the Christmas tree, Newcastle United have Manchester City to face in their game after Santa’s visit.
A packed St James Park, a game moved to under the lights of Wednesday night, broadcast live to a worldwide TV audience, no expectations/pressure on Newcastle getting a result, an opposition who will come and play a very open game with all out attack, some of the best players in the Premier League on show…
So why is Newcastle v Manchester City a nightmare fixture?
Well, let me explain.
Personally, I would rather we mail the three points to Manchester City and just forget this game.
The three points at West Ham was a massive boost, without them I dread to think how the rest of the festive period, and indeed, the rest of the season, might have turned out without the win.
I was actually pretty confident despite going into Saturday’s match on such a shocking run of results.
West Ham are one of the worst teams in the Premier League and now with impeccably bad timing, Rafa’s team have to play the very best.
This Manchester City game is the very worst fixture Newcastle could have picked, at the very worst time.
A full week to prepare for Brighton would have been ideal, plus the chance for players to rest and throw off any knocks.
The United boss would have hoped to use the momentum of Newcastle’s first win in nine weeks but it is all but certain (odds of 14/1 on Newcastle to win at home says it all) that no matter what Rafa Benitez and his players do, they will lose on Wednesday.
That is not defeatist, just reality.
Man City have played every other Premier League club and beaten them all, apart from Everton. The scousers got a fortunate draw in Man City’s opening home match, despite Guardiola’s team playing for over the half the match with 10 me after Kyle Walker was sent off on his home debut, Everton only managed one corner and two shots on target despite the man advantage. Obviously they scored with one of those two attempts on target and held on for a draw as Manchester City still had 65% of possession despite having one less player.
Having won their last 17 matches, Manchester City could play badly, Newcastle could play really well and have all the luck, yet still lose by a few goals.
At any other time I’d be all up for having a real go at them but the timing is really desperate.
What a dilemma for Rafa Benitez. He already has one less day then Brighton have to prepare for Saturday’s match and he knows his team will be looking to get any more than a quarter of the possession against Manchester City, the Newcastle players will run themselves into the ground as they try to counter Man City’s attacking quality and all for nothing.
So Benitez will have a knackered side, plus also with the increased potential of tired players picking up injuries, only to then face two of the most important and winnable matches of the season within 48 hours of each other. Stoke away following two days after Brighton at home.
There must surely be a massive temptation for Rafa to put out a second team against Manchester City and just write the game off totally, as the Brighton and Stoke games are far far more important.
Of course the United boss won’t do that, no matter how tempting, but on the other hand I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go halfway towards that. Under the argument of rotating the squad in this busy period, I think we may well see a very different NUFC line-up on Wednesday than if we were say playing one of the other relegation battlers.
The likes of Diame and/or Saivet could see themselves staying in the team, as Rafa resists rushing Merino and/or Hayden back after they missed the West Ham game after picking up knocks.
Watch out as well for key attacking players such as Gayle being looked after, plus maybe Saturday’s man of the match Christian Atsu as well. Even maybe Jamaal Lascelles could get a surprise rest, to ensure Newcastle have these available for Brighton and Stoke. DeAndre Yedlin could be another to be given a shift off.
Maybe fringe players such as Murphy, Mbemba, Aarons, Perez etc given a start against Manchester City, as well as Dummett brought in and Manquillo switched to right-back.
I will be supportive of whatever Rafa decides is for the best but I just hope that whatever happens on Wednesday night, the United boss is happy with the state of his team/squad going into the Brighton game on Saturday.
Maybe if Mitrovic wasn’t (allegedly) injured ahead of the January transfer window, we may even have had a very surprising first PL start of the season against Manchester City, after all, the last time he started against Man City he put Newcastle in front…only for them to reply with six goals in 20 minutes.
With a squad short on quality and numbers, these three games separated by only five days, are arguably Rafa Benitez’ biggest challenge yet when managing Newcastle United.
I still say let’s stick the three points in the post to the Etihad and tell Manchester City they can have the night off…