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Can’t spend a month teaching a goat to be a goat then complain when ask it to be a lion and it can’t roar

4 days ago
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Newcastle United 2 Manchester City 2: Pretty Vacant

I heard the song Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols twice on Saturday, the second time at St James Park.

I should have known it was no co-incidence as I looked at the odds for the game which was to follow. A Newcastle team who had beaten Manchester City last season were 14/1 to repeat it, even though City had looked pedestrian and lacking ideas against Shakhtar three days earlier.

Pretty but vacant in fact. A bit like manager Pep Guardiola, a model for TV adverts promoting regular prostate examinations for middle-aged men, dressed like a millionaire golfer but unable to stamp his authority on a team looking a shadow of its former self.

Against Steve Bruce, dressed like he has just finished his shift on the trolleys at ASDA.

Two teams in their managers’ image, one neat, tidy and over-groomed, the other more static, less glamorous but on Saturday, just as good.

‘Steve Bruce: Where are the Trolleys?’

Newcastle once again defended the Gallowgate in the first half, all part of the recurring game-plan and it will be interesting to see what happens when the new Captain Marvel doesn’t win the toss. Perhaps NUFC don’t give one, when the Toon must defend the home end in the second half the same tactics will prevail.

The head injury to Yedlin, meant that Manquillo was preferred to Krafth at right back and the early indications were that City were looking to get down that wing at every opportunity. The first twenty minutes saw the Citizens have almost complete possession of the ball without doing anything with it, playing in front of Newcastle’s pyramid structure between 15 and 30 yards from goal.

The only real space for the Blues to attack into was down their left hand side but rarely did the world’s biggest full back, Mendy, look like delivering the sort of cross which had the quality to trouble United, anything in the air was easy pickings for the three pillars in defence against a physically non-existing City attack.

Then it started to click for the billion-pound team.

David Silva, De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling started to find their one touch pace, little spaces began to open up in the black and white back line. A scuffed chance went begging, then Sterling scored. If a little luck was involved in a Hayden tackle ricocheting kindly, it was a warning to those in black and white that any chinks in their armour could be ruthlessly exposed. For five minutes the blues of Manchistoh had played like the title favourites they were and Tyneside collectively gulped. Problems.

Perhaps because NUFC equalised so quickly it knocked the Mancs out of their stride, perhaps they just aren’t that good. Whatever the cause, United were level three minutes later. An outrageous touch by Willems played in Almiron who squared back to our attacking wing back and Willems calmly drilled the ball across the crackers custodian of the opposition’s goal. Lovely, as unexpected as it was welcome.

After a brief celebration and a VAR check to see if we were allowed to score against them, the game quickly settled back into the previous chess match. City scuttled aimlessly around 25 yards away from our goal like a Johan Cruyff training manual diagram and did nothing with the 100% possession they had. United got forward once, Joelinton battling bravely to release Almiron on the wing, Almiron running past his man and crossing across the six yard box. To no one. Joelinton had never moved, perhaps standing admiring a completed pass, perhaps not expecting a cross. Sometimes he is so isolated he will soon have endangered species status. Sometimes it is own fault. Half Time.

‘Joelinton: an endangered species’

I hoped that United would attack more in the second half but that just didn’t happen. Another twenty minutes of pointless possession started the second period. Then, as in the first half, City exploded. Jesus and De Bruyne both shot straight at the expertly positioned Dubravka, Manquillo I think put in a tackle when City seemed certain to score. City replaced Mahrez who was completely ineffective against two speedsters like Willems and ASM, who double teamed him, showed the line, out-paced him when he went and never let him cut inside. Having seen that player destroy Steve McClaren’s tactical masterplan, fair play to the Stevolution for dealing with him.

Bruce may not be Benitez when it comes to tactics, but he seems to be a chapter further through Fat Sam’s Big Headed Encyclopedia of Football than Macca was.

Dubravka’s world-class double save seemed to be in vain when De Bruyne decided to smash the ball in from 25 yards. A goal of real class from a quality player, the crowd sank back into their seats. This time it looked too much of an ask to produce another equaliser. Submission.

United had other ideas. Atsu came on for the exciting but wasteful ASM. Fernandinho upended Manquillo on the edge of the box and escaped a second booking for reasons that no one yet has been able to explain. Atsu squared the ball to Shelvey who curled a beauty into the keeper’s right hand corner. The ground erupted, it was the noise of the season so far. There was time for Sterling to miss a sitter, allowing Dubravka to make his third top drawer save when he should have given the keeper no chance and Newcastle saw the time out for a well-earned point.

An overview of the stats from this game would suggest that it was very similar to the last two at SJP between the two sides. Manchester City dominating possession, Newcastle United parking the bus. Manchester City taking more shots than an American dentist on a Safari holiday and Newcastle sneaking a point with one of their chances.

While some of that is true, some of it isn’t. There was no embarrassing lack of intent on Saturday, just two teams doing what they do. United had a threat during the defensive organisation and commitment shown in the previous two seasons but against a team that lacked much of the sparkle which Pep’s Plan and Dubai’s dollars have brought. It might have been true that for much of this game United were spectators but hardly chasing their tails.

Undoubtedly Manchester City missed Aguero, any team would, but pundits who spoke about City’s injuries afterwards were missing the point that none of Newcastle’s back five would probably have been playing if it wasn’t for injuries. And Andy Carroll couldn’t even come on for a canter for the last few minutes. Injuries are part of the game, one you have to overcome whether your team cost a hundred million or a hundred hundred million.

Man City just don’t have what they used to have any more. The Blues style is more based on quick and incisive passing, pacey forwards scoring before the opposition’s defence has had time to adapt. There was very little of that on Saturday. Silva, Sterling and De Bruyne have it. The rest don’t.

‘Kevin De Bruyne: Too good for us on Saturday, too good to stay at Man City’

For NUFC, it was again the back six who were the stars of the show, ably supported defensively by the rest of the team. In midfield, Hayden’s tackles once again were timed instead of reckless, though he offered nothing further up the pitch. Shelvey overcame a workmanlike first half and grew into the game, culminating in his beautifully taken goal. I’m not his biggest fan but at the moment he is in the team for his goals alone.

Up front, all three of the Musketeers again did good things and bad things, sometimes in the same move.

So it is now six games unbeaten for United at SJP. That sounds great but it hasn’t always been, it was difficult to be jubilant after the draws against Watford and Brighton, easier to celebrate a point on Saturday and a well earned one at that. Even if it wasn’t 3-2 against Barcelona or the 4-3 away at Leeds under SBR, it was pragmatic, dogged, defensive football with a threat on the break. Steve Bruce afterwards said that

“The team, I believe, is suited to be set up the way we are. There’ll come a day when we’re higher up the pitch.”

Undoubtedly that is a transition that will have to be carefully managed. Changing this team from a defensive one to an attacking one will be more of a challenge for Bruce than what he mentioned after the game, the players being more consistent after one poor game being followed by one good one: “We go up and down too easily, especially away from home. We have to improve. Consistency is what we’re striving for. We have to keep working at it and keep plodding away.”

Well Steve, you can’t spend a month teaching a goat to be a goat and then complain when you ask it to be a lion and it can’t roar. At the moment, Newcastle United are a decent goat and that will do for now. Getting them to roar looks like it will have to wait.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 2 Manchester City 2  – Saturday 30 November 12.30pm

Goals:

Newcastle United:

Willems 25, Shelvey 88

Man City:

Sterling 22, De Bruyne 82

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Possession was Man City 77% (78%), Newcastle 23% (22%)

Total shots were Man City 24 (9), Newcastle 6 (3)

Shots on target were Man City 9 (4), Newcastle 3 (2)

Corners were Man City 10 (4), Newcastle 1 (1)

Crowd: 49,937 (3,200 Man City)

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Newcastle team v Man City:

Dubravka, Manquillo, Fernandez, Dummett, Clark, Willems, Hayden, Shelvey, Saint-Maximin (Atsu 80), Almiron, Joelinton (Gayle 69)

Unused Subs

Darlow, Krafth, Matty Longstaff, Schar, Sean Longstaff

(Steve Bruce makes unnecessary Jonjo Shelvey comments after draw v Manchester City – Read HERE)

(John Stones says Manchester City still very much in title race despite Newcastle’s ‘Two sloppy goals’ – Read HERE)

(Pep Guardiola philosophical as Premier League title hopes end at St James Park – read HERE)

(Watch official match highlights and all four goals from Newcastle 2 Manchester City 2 – Watch HERE)

(Newcastle 2 Manchester City 2 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s draw – Read HERE)

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