For Newcastle United coming up against a marauding Manchester City side that had scored a staggering 60 goals in 19 games, on a 17 game winning streak in a busy midweek December Fixture, was always going to be a tough match up.
Rafa Benitez already had to be mindful of an injury/recovery list that had claimed important players. Not to mention the next run of three games being ever so crucial to the club’s survival fortunes.
As much I would have liked Rafa to retain Saivet, he stuck to horse for courses with Mbemba coming in to counter the pace factor and Dummett providing better defensive security cover for Manquillo on the left to curtail Bernado Silva. Joselu was the lone forward up front as an outlet for long clearances. Gayle, Atsu and Ritchie were rested with Brighton in mind.
When you come up against a top side like Manchester City, that has been unprecedented in how it has dominated the Premier League, it would be literally foolhardy to go toe to toe with them and look to take it to them. Not in the first half anyways.
Rafa played it no differently than anyone knowing his situation would have expected. Lack of investment in a Championship pedigree side with good honest players but lack of star quality to be able to make that extra bit of difference, dictated how he would approach the game.
Rather than get upset with commentators like Neville or Carra who wouldn’t have the Cojones to step in to that role, I would commend the disciplined manner this side played with. The level of mental concentration with the back to the goal and ability to play to a strategy right down to its last detail was impressive to say the least. With Diame breathing down De Bruyne’s neck, it did affect his rhythm and showed when he tried to force the issue in a couple of skied attempts.
The game plan to me was fine with trying to hold the fort up to the 60th minute and then start pushing through. Manchester City never really were able to break Newcastle through the middle. With the exception of over the top lobs that could have been negated if not Dummett playing Aguero onside – but understandable given his lack of match fitness.
It would have been a good first half if not the goal that turned out to be the match winner. Elliot had pulled off a super save prior but could he have done better by fully securing his near post? We will never know but we have asked the question more than a couple of times this season.
As much as Rolando Aarons hasn’t had the opportunity this season, I was expecting him to do better. There were a couple of moments when the team got a chance to break through but he ended overplaying his passes. It’s a difficult predicament to be in with not many games in your stride, hopefully he continues to put in work and get the nod.
The complexion of the game changed when Gayle and Atsu came on. Hindsight, I am tempted to consider what might have been if both of them started, especially Atsu. In my opinion, Atsu runs and plays the counter better. He was able to stretch Man City’s defence and easily added more thrust with his pace and ease on the ball. The cross to Gayle under pressure was on the money. Merino as well was able to find the runs of Yedlin.
It’s a shame that Newcastle couldn’t nick a goal, but the last two games have given so much of a feel good factor. More importantly, looks like it’s coming back together to where they were earlier in the season in terms of defensive discipline and organisation, with Lascelles’s return playing a big part.
That makes it so much easier for the midfield to play their part in pushing forward.
Let the takeover not be a distraction anymore, it will happen when it happens, but additions should be done whether they are loans or permanent buys.
I’m sure Rafa will be able to turn this around when he’s finally backed in the right manner.
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