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Fascinating as Rafa Benitez explains how to beat Manchester City

1 week ago
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Rafa Benitez has been looking back at Newcastle’s victory over Manchester City in January.

A win that was remarkable for many reasons, not least because within seconds of the kick-off Sergio Aguero put Man City in front.

The stats are staggering, as since that day Manchester City haven’t lost another Premier League match.

More than that, the second half of last season saw Guardiola’s team have a record of played 19, won 18 and lost one. With this season seeing three wins and a draw, the last 23 Manchester City PL matches have seen them pick up a staggering 64 points from a possible 69, Newcastle getting that 2-1 win at St James Park and Spurs a 2-2 draw last month.

When you consider that Liverpool have lost (to Manchester City…) only one of their last 43 Premier League matches, it underlines just how dominant these two teams have become.

It is fascinating stuff though as Rafa Benitez explains how you can beat Manchester City but at the same time accepting that a lot of factors have to fall in your favour as well – because you can do everything right and still get beat.

Talking about his tactic being criticised, Rafa says that whilst the pundits are demanding you should play a more open style and almost certainly get hammered…’what the fans want is to win and with this in mind, you have to play as best you can.’

He says you have to accept the players you have at any given time and use them the best way you can, saying that he obviously enjoyed the kind of games more such as Liverpool beating Real Madrid 4-0 in 2009, than having to use more limited tactics.

Against a team like Manchester City, Rafa Benitez says the most important thing is to stay in the game as long as possible because that then keeps both players and fans motivated and have some hope.

In his time at Newcastle, these were Rafa’s results against Manchester City:

Newcastle 1 Manchester City 1

Newcastle 0 Manchester City 1

Manchester City 3 Newcastle 1

Manchester City 2 Newcastle 1

Newcastle 2 Manchester City 1

In all five games Rafa Benitez kept Newcastle in the game, Manchester City only leading by more than one goal in that 3-1 game – for four minutes until Jacob Murphy pulled it back to 2-1 and then the very final seven minutes when Man City scored their third.

In terms of why he had no choice but to leave Newcastle and what could/should have happened, Rafa only touches on it slightly. Talking about playing style, especially against the best teams, the former NUFC boss says that after two years of achieving mid-table finishes on such a tight budget, this season was ‘the time to then move forward and go one step further’, with proper investment in the squad that would have allowed his Newcastle team to play more expansive football and have ambitions to finish higher up the table.

Rafa Benitez writing for The Athletic:

‘Manchester City were an unbelievable team when our Newcastle side beat them in January — and they still are.

That game at St James’ Park eight months ago was the last time City have lost in the Premier League, which illustrates just how good they are. There is no single way to play against them or to beat them — if there was, everybody would do it!’

‘When Newcastle were at the Etihad Stadium last September, we played with five at the back. We conceded an early goal to Raheem Sterling, equalised through DeAndre Yedlin and, at 1-1, we were doing well. We were a threat on the counterattack. In the second half, we conceded again, and then had to change to four at back. We were exposed all the time. Every attack, every counterattack, we were left more open — we didn’t have the support to cover for each player.

When it was time to play them again, it was clear we had to play five at the back. If you want some success against City, you have to attack them. Our idea was not a 5-4-1, but a 3-4-3 when we regained the ball.

Can you do it against them? Yes, but less than against other teams. Why? Because you have less possession and they are very good at pressing when they give the ball away. If you can avoid that pressing, you can run behind and be a threat.’

‘I was was very proud about Newcastle’s 2-1 victory that night because it came against a really good team, but that doesn’t mean I was happy to play that way. I had to do it.

I enjoyed it more when our Liverpool side were beating Real Madrid 4-0 (in 2009) and we were on top of them all the time; for sure, I was happy with that. But in terms of preparing, commitment and following the game plan, it was a massive win for Newcastle. If you don’t do those things, you will be battered by them.

There were moments when our tactics were criticised at Newcastle but it’s always about the tools you have. As a manager I have worked with teams that have scored and created a lot of goals, and I like to do that, but your job is to get the best out of your players. In the end, most of our fans appreciated that we finished 10th (in 2018) and then 13th (last season), and that was the time to then move forward and go one step further.’

‘And you cannot keep losing 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 and think, ‘Oh, this is nice because we’re playing an open style.’ No, what the fans want is to win and with this in mind, you have to play as best you can.

You have to make sure that your players trust you and know that, to achieve something, you have to achieve it together.’

‘People said about Newcastle, ‘Oh, you don’t win against the top sides’ but we came very close. And if you stay in the game, it means your players will continue to compete with the belief that you can get a result. If you do that, the fans will stay behind you. Everybody has to be at 100 percent: the manager, the staff, the players — the kitman and the crowd, too. You also need some luck.

If the other team has 75-80 percent possession, it means they’re on top of you all the time, but it also means you have space behind their defenders. You have to try to exploit that. But it depends on the players you have.’

To read the full excellent Rafa Benitez column at The Athletic go here.

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