Saturday saw Newcastle visit the Etihad Stadium in a match between the last two unbeaten teams in the Premier League – Manchester City; the best attacking force in the league versus Newcastle United; the best defence in the league.
It started reasonably well for Newcastle, as they sat back and managed to keep City at bay. In the first 40 minutes, Balotelli and Aguero had the only two chances for City, whilst Demba Ba could have scored at the other end with either of his two decent chances. However, a disastrous few minutes that resulted in Ryan Taylor conceding a penalty for handball, which Balotelli coolly slotted home for the opening goal and then secondly, some indecision from Taylor again, allowed Micah Richards to pounce and knock the ball past the helpless Tim Krul.
In the 60th minute, Ben Arfa showed some skill in evading Lescott and Kompany, but slightly scuffed his shot with his weaker foot and hit the post.
On the 70th minute, Steven Taylor had to leave the field to receive treatment and City took advantage of the situation. Ben Arfa temporarily filled in on the left wing and was caught napping as Micah Richards ghosted in behind and was brought down in the area by some clumsy defending by the Frenchman. Aguero scored the resulting penalty before substitute Dan Gosling grabbed a consolation goal for Newcastle.
City ‘wingers’ creating space for full backs
With Milner and Nasri starting out wide and cutting into the middle of the pitch, it allowed Micah Richards and Gael Clichy to exploit space down the wings – but some poor defending from Newcastle contributed to this.
As you can see from the first screenshot below, the backline is relatively straight across the defence, as Ryan Taylor (red) is marking Milner and Gutierrez (yellow) is marking Richards (blue). In the second screenshot just minutes later, both Taylor and Gutierrez are attracted to the ball, leaving Richards unmarked and in space to run into. This occurred throughout the game, with both men attracted to the middle of the park to mark Milner. It could be argued that Ryan Taylor’s main concern is to look after James Milner, leaving Gutierrez to mark the marauding Richards, as in the first screenshot. Nevertheless, with some better communication between Gutierrez and Ryan Taylor, Richards could have been better marked.
With a visit to Old Trafford next weekend and Nani playing a similar inverted winger role and cutting inside with Phil Jones overlapping, hopefully Newcastle will have learned from their mistakes and restrict the space out wide.
City dominate possession, but Newcastle not battered
Manchester City dominated possession throughout the game (64% v 36%) and made twice as many passes (523 v 245), although nearly half of those passes were made in their own half. Barring the defensive lapses that resulted in goals for City, Newcastle didn’t play too badly defensively and frustrated City early on, as they closed the midfield and this led to City’s defence playing some patient football across their back four trying to look for some space ahead to play into.
Even looking at their passes in the attacking third, you can see that City make more than twice as many successful passes as Newcastle did, but Newcastle actually created more chances and had more shots on goal (7 v 8 ) and more shots on target in open play (3 v 4).
Do Do Do, Sammy Ameobi
It was surprising news that Alan Pardew opted to introduce Sammy Ameobi into the fold and make his first starting team line up against the Premier League leaders, but it follows the game plan that Pardew has adopted all season.
Pardew has always opted for pace on the right wing; first with Gabriel Obertan, then Sylvain Marveaux until his injury against Everton and now Ameobi. Pardew commented in a recent interview that Obertan was crucial in carrying the ball further up the pitch on the counter and subsequently, relieving pressure from the defenders and Sammy Ameobi offers the same quality with this pace.
Despite having the poorest passing rate in the team (54% successful), he played reasonably well in his unorthodox role. Along with Hatem Ben Arfa, he made the most dribbles (3 out of 5 successful) and managed to win a few corners, at times giving Gael Clichy problems with his unpredictable trickery.
Adding to this, he continued to maintain the team mentality and battled for the ball showing his defensive qualities. He was successful in 5 out of 11 ground duels (45%) and won both tackles that he attempted. In terms of winning possession back, he was 3rd behind Cabaye (9) and Gutierrez (7) – Sammy won back possessions on 5 occasions, 3 in Newcastle’s defensive third.
A good performance all round and with some better decision making with his passing, he looks like an exciting prospect this season and doesn’t look out of place in the first team.
Despite the 3-1 scoreline and possession statistics suggesting it might have been an easy game for City, in truth, Newcastle didn’t play too badly against the Premier League leaders and the display on Saturday was nothing to be ashamed about.
The first penalty was unlucky as the ball struck Ryan Taylor’s outstretched hand from a few yards out and some indecision and a lapse in concentration resulted in the second and third goal. City was clinical in punishing Newcastle for their mistakes.
However, some positives can be taken from our performance. We created several good chances against one of best defences of the league and at the other end, we restricted the best attacking force to only two shots on target in open play – Balotelli’s header was the only real test for Tim Krul.
Sammy Ameobi’s full Premier League debut showed some promise, as well as Hatem Ben Arfa’s introduction back into the starting line up. His pace, trickery and skill created a chance for Demba Ba and one for himself, which on another day, could have resulted in goal that nestled inside Joe Hart’s right hand post.
Our next match sees Newcastle United travel to Old Trafford to face second place Manchester United, who have shown some frailties this season – one of the teams with the most shots on goal allowed this season and they looked unconvincing in recent wins against Norwich, Sunderland and Swansea.
Tiote should be back for this match and it’ll be interesting to see that if Best does return in time, will he return to the team at Ben Arfa’s expense?
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