Approaching the end of January, Manchester City have enjoyed a rich vein of form that few teams could dream of. Having scored a remarkable 30 goals in 7 games since the turn of the new year, Pep Guardiola’s Blues are showing signs that they are ready to go to war on all fronts in 2019. They have drawn blood from league leaders Liverpool; they have reached a second successive League Cup final in record fashion; they have secured a place in the FA Cup 5th round by 13 goals without reply.
Yet in the words of the gaffer himself, every game is a final for Manchester City. Though not offering any silverware, City’s next match offers the next battle in the war for the Premier League title, as Guardiola’s men hope to finish an extraordinary month in emphatic style in their journey to take on Newcastle at St. James’ Park.
Despite being a club struggling to secure an identity on and off the pitch, Rafa Benitez’s Magpies will still be able to provide a stern test for City, as evidenced by the tight 2-1 victory at the Etihad in September. Supporters on Tyneside may have a closer eye on the transfer market than to the result on Tuesday night, but with the club hovering above the relegation zone and City themselves desperate to put Liverpool under pressure at the top, it wouldn’t be surprising if this fixture has a few surprises in store.
Nonetheless, Benitez’s side is struck with an injury crisis at present, with key players like Jonjo Shelvey, Mo Diame, Paul Dummett, and Ki Sung-Yong forced onto the sidelines. Without any substantial reinforcements, the Magpies are likely to be left with no other option but to defend deep and hope for the odd chance to fall to striker Salomón Rondón.
To a City side who could potentially break the record for the highest scoring calendar month in the club’s history, there may already be blood in the water. With Benjamin Mendy likely to be available for selection once again, the only confirmed absentees are Claudio Bravo and Vincent Kompany, who miss out whilst they continue to recuperate from long and short-term injury respectively.
City Xtra Line-up Prediction:
Ederson will be one of the first names on the team sheet as Pep Guardiola looks to set an example from the back at St. James’s Park. The Brazilian played the full 90 minutes against Burnley on Saturday yet had little to do bar close down a one-on-one, and will secretly be hoping to be in for more involvement come Tuesday night.
Though a Brazilian presence has also been helpful in defence also, it will not come at the expense of Kyle Walker. Despite having enjoyed a few high-profile brain farts this season, Walker remains City’s premium option at right back and has done enough in recent weeks to suggest he is finding his rhythm again.
Likewise, Nicolas Otamendi is likely to feature in the centre of defence, alongside Aymeric Laporte. The Argentine has shown in his few appearances this season that he retains the propensity for a mistake, but deserves the opportunity to correct his mistakes alongside the composed figure of Laporte. The bullish physique of Rondón is sure to provide a physical test for both defenders, yet both should be more than up to the task. Particularly with high profile games against Arsenal and Chelsea approaching fast, it will pay to keep everyone fit and ready.
The left-back position is a tricky situation, with Danilo, Fabian Delph, and Oleksandr Zinchenko all having staked a claim in recent months to complete the Blues’ defensive line. However, these are all in lieu of City’s first choice, Benjamin Mendy. Having confirmed that the Frenchman is “much better” in his Monday afternoon presser, Guardiola will now have to carefully decide whether to rest the Frenchman or give him minutes to increase his fitness, which is sorely lacking as a result of his prolonged absence from a knee injury. The head says Danilo probably might start due to his composed performances in recent weeks, but in the context of upcoming games, I think it might be Benjamin Mendy who starts against Newcastle. There simply may not be a better opportunity to bring him back into the fold for some time.
Though Blues may be watching his fitness with bated breath, Fernandinho looks odds-on to start given Guardiola’s comments about Newcastle’s tactical profile and the Brazilian’s need for match rhythm. On the flip-side, I would bank on Kevin De Bruyne to be rotated in preparation for the Arsenal game and allow Ilkay Gündogan to step into midfield, whereby he can slot further back when Fernandinho is inevitably substituted in the name of preservation. Completing the midfield axis is David Silva. Having not started a game since Wolverhampton, El Mago is due to return to the spotlight, whereby his mercurial skill will likely provide the intangible class City need to get a result.
The front line will be an attacking triumvirate of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Leroy Sané. Though Riyad Mahrez has put in valuable shifts against Burton and Burnley since being left out at Huddersfield, he still has not found the decisiveness that makes his teammates Sterling and Sané so electric (though he will probably find space on the bench this time around). As specified, Sterling and Sané are a duo with absolutely lethal potential on most days, yet in the absence of Agüero (in anticipation of the Arsenal tie), their potency will be essential to finding the win up on Tyneside. Should Gabriel Jesus manage to bring his insatiable form to the party also, then there is more than enough for City to score four goals without reply, which would set a new club record for the highest scoring calendar month.
Predicted Starting XI and Substitutes:
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