After a lacklustre performance under the lights on Tuesday night, Manchester City square off against Newcastle at St. James’ Park on Saturday. Will a trip to Newcastle help City build momentum ahead of a grueling December? Or will this fixture give City fits for a second consecutive season, plunging Pep’s men further down the Premier League table?
The busy season is upon us, as far as City fandom is concerned, and although previous campaigns have seen a dip in form around this time, City can ill afford any slip ups this season, as they trail Liverpool by nine points heading into the weekend.
The Blues are coming off a midweek performance in which ‘job done‘ probably sums things up most accurately. The squad were far from their best but, thanks to goal from Ilkay Gundogan, ultimately did enough to nab a point off Shakhtar Donetsk at the Etihad, and seal a spot in the Champions League Round of 16 at the top of Group C. As for the Premier League campaign, while a nifty Riyad Mahrez goal helped the Blues see off Chelsea last weekend, it’s been some weeks since City put forth the type of dominant display we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.
Squaring off against Pep’s men will be a Newcastle side which had enjoyed a short spell of encouraging football before a damaging loss at Villa Park on Monday. Hoping to get back on track, the Toon are surely in search of a repeat result from their last outing against City, in which goals from Salomon Rondon and Matt Ritchie were enough to topple the title-bound Blues.
City will again be without Sergio Aguero on Saturday, who picked up a knock against Chelsea and should miss a few weeks. Elsewhere, it appears as though Rodri and Silva aren’t in perfect health, despite both featuring against Shakhtar on Tuesday. Nevertheless, Pep hasn’t ruled either of them out for Saturday, only citing Aguero and the team’s long term absentees as unfit. It’s unclear whether that list includes Oleksandr Zinchenko, who should be ready to return by next weekend.
As for Newcastle, they’ll be missing last season’s match winner Matt Ritchie, who the club announced will be out until January. Speedy American wingback DeAndre Yedlin is also a major doubt for Saturday’s match, having picked up an injury to his hip. Otherwise, manager Steve Bruce has confirmed that his team is fit.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
Ederson will get the start in goal, and will look to atone for his nearly catastrophic error on Tuesday. As for the backline, while Joao Cancelo has earned consecutive starts for the first time in his City career, I don’t suspect he’ll earn a third. This isn’t to say the Portuguese international has been woeful in the last two outings, but earning three successive starts in City’s squad is no small feat, particularly with the likes of Kyle Walker in the mix. Indeed, I predict we’ll see the return of Kyle Walker at right-back on Saturday. In central defence, i suspect John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi will get the nod. After all, you’d have to think Fernandinho will get a rest one of these days. Benjamin Mendy will start at left-back, in what has seemingly developed into a one-on, one-off situation between the Frenchman and his Spanish counterpart, Angelino.
In the centre of the team, Rodri will start in his normal defensive midfield slot. Fresh off a goal-scoring performance on Tuesday night, Ilkay Gundogan will join the midfield trio looking to pull the strings against a porous Newcastle group. Rounding up the midfield will be Kevin De Bruyne who, as with the City squad on the whole, has lacked that bit of dazzling form in the last few weeks.
Up front, Raheem Sterling slots into his typical spot on the left wing. Gabriel Jesus will spearhead the City attack in search of an impressive road performance. It’s been said many times before, but it does feel like a potentially defining stretch of games for the young Brazilian. With City desperately in need of a lengthy unbeaten run, and the derby lurking around the corner, if Jesus wants to earn the long term trust of City’s fans, staff, and front office, it’s likely now or never. No pressure, Gab. Finally, match-winner Riyad Mahrez will retake his spot on the right wing after a less-than-convincing midweek outing from Bernardo Silva.
City Bench: Claudio Bravo, Fernandinho, Angelino, Joao Cancelo, David Silva, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva
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