19.11.11 – Saturday 3pm
The Etihad Stadium
Barclays Premier League
Man City 3
Balotelli (pen) 41
Aguero (pen) 72
A meeting between the Premier League’s two remaining unbeaten sides saw Manchester City defeat Newcastle 3-1 to retain their 5 point lead at the top of the table.
City took the lead 5 minutes before half time after referee Chris Foy rightly awarded a penalty kick when Ryan Taylor’s outstretched arm blocked a goal bound shot; Mario Balotelli coolly converted from the spot. The lead was doubled on the stroke of half time when Ryan Taylor’s hesitancy to clear a low ball into the box was punished by the anticipatory Micah Richards who nicked the ball off Taylor before prodding beyond the reach of Tim Krul.
The second half began with Newcastle on the front foot and looking to get back into the game, with Hatem Ben Arfa, Danny Guthrie and Fabricio Coloccini going close, but City were to extend their lead in the 72nd minute when Richards was brought down in the area from behind by Ben Arfa before Sergio Aguero made it 3-0 from the spot. Substitute Dan Gosling pulled a goal back from close range for Newcastle in the final minute, but it was too little too late for the visitors as City ended the game 3-1 victors.
Here we take a look at the 5 key points from a Newcastle perspective:
1. Team selection and tactics
An injury hit Newcastle were without regular first teamers Cheick Tiote, Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux and Leon Best for the trip to Manchester which forced Alan Pardew to make 2 changes to the starting 11 that beat Everton 2-1 at St James’ Park a fortnight ago; Ben Arfa and Sammy Ameobi replacing Marveaux and Best in the starting line up. Roberto Mancini, no doubt taking into account the upcoming midweek Champions League trip to Napoli, utilised his side’s strength in depth and made 5 changes to the Man City side which beat Q.P.R 3-2 at Loftus Road as Gael Clichy, Vincent Kompany, Nigel De Jong, Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli took the places of Stefan Savic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gareth Barry, David Silva and Edin Dzeko.
With Best injured and Shola Ameobi perhaps still short of match fitness, Pardew was short of orthodox forwards to utilise his favoured 4-4-2 formation and instead opted for a 4-4-1-1 with Ben Arfa playing in the ‘number 10’ role behind Ba. Newcastle typically defended deep but, far from simply ‘parking the bus’, looked to break on the counter attack using the pace of Sammy Ameobi and trickery of Ben Arfa. City personified the possession game with accurate and fluid ‘pass and move’ football that was difficult to track and which resulted in the home side largely controlling proceedings.
2. City control the centre
Both sides used systems that incorporated a 4 man midfield, which posed a direct 2 vs 2 battle in the centre of midfield as Yohan Cabaye and Danny Guthrie faced up against Nigel De Jong and Yaya Toure. Although Cabaye and Guthrie performed plausibly, it was the City pair who outperformed their midfield counterparts and helped the home side control the centre of midfield.
De Jong, naturally a defensive midfielder, and Yaya Toure, often the driving force for City, offered a healthy balance of defensive and attacking qualities. They were comfortable in possession which is highlighted by the fact that they were the game’s top 2 passers with 66 and 60 passes completed respectively, while both players also achieved an impressive passing accuracy of over 90%. Conversely, Guthrie and Cabaye are both more naturally offensive players and, while both are adept at the defensive side of the game, Newcastle missed the destructive and spoiling style of Tiote to break up the opposition’s midfield play.
3. Nomadic Nasri and roaming former Magpie Milner
Man City’s wide men Samir Nasri, starting on the left, and James Milner, starting on the right, typified the fluidity and accuracy of City’s play. While Nasri plays more as an inverted winger who likes to cut inside on his stronger right side, Milner is more of an out and out winger who is able to get to the by-line before delivering a cross, yet both are versatile enough to perform either role and did so against Newcastle’s full backs who struggled to keep up with their movement.
Both Nasri and Milner showed a willingness to cut inside to link play and retain possession, rather than hitting hopeful crosses into the box or up to the front men, which is highlighted in their high pass accuracy percentages of 91% and 84% respectively. The pair are given the freedom to roam from their starting positions, which they do often, that arguably posed Newcastle a more difficult proposition to prepare for, track and defend against than a side who employ orthodox wingers.
4. Attack minded Richards and Clichy exploit space
When the aforementioned Nasri and Milner drifted inside from their wide positions it dragged with them the Newcastle full backs and created space for the onrushing Micah Richards and Gael Clichy from full back. And the pair, playing almost as secondary wingers at times such were their high positions and forward runs, were keen to exploit the space created for them by their teammates.
Clichy has been criticised in recent times for his positioning, but against Newcastle he performed his defensive duties admirably with 3 tackles, 6 interceptions and 9 clearances while offering attacking support with 59% of his passes completed in Newcastle’s half. However, it was Richards who caught the eye with his relentless attacking from right back reminiscent of Barcelona’s Dani Alves. Richards completed an impressive 61% of his passes in the opposition half and capped off a man of the match winning performance with a well earned goal and won a penalty for his side.
5. Deep lying Newcastle place attacking emphasis on their number 10
Newcastle tended to defend deep and in 2 banks of 4, as they have done effectively in the previous 2 fixtures against Everton and Stoke, with the midfield attempting to narrow the space for City to play into. This effectively reduced Newcastle’s attacking threat on the left with Gutierrez again primarily concerned about helping out Ryan Taylor at left back. And while there were bursts of pace down the right side from Sammy Ameobi it was Ben Arfa playing just off the, at times isolated, Ba who was expected to provide the creative spark.
Considering it was his first league start of the season, and his first appearance at the ground in which he suffered such a harrowing double leg break, Ben Arfa showed in glimpses of what he is capable of. His direct approach, skill and vision in the final third almost created an assist for Ba, who should have scored from close range, while he went close to grabbing a goal of his own with his right footed shot inches from finding Joe Hart’s bottom right corner. His defending in the penalty area could do with some work though…
At the end of the day…
After 11 games unbeaten in the league this season, albeit having ‘not played anyone yet’, Newcastle suffered their first defeat away to the side currently residing at the top of the table, but far from disgraced themselves with a spirited and determined display on a ground which the majority of visiting teams will suffer defeat this season.
Although Man City dominated possession with 64% to Newcastle’s 36% and completed over double the amount of passes (564) than their opponents (274), Newcastle had their chances and managed 4 shots on target to Man City’s 5. In terms of tactics there’s little that Pardew could have done different given the players that were missing and they weren’t that far off yielding a result for Newcastle.
Had Ba been more clinical in front of goal, which we’ve perhaps came to expect due to his excellent start to the season, and converted either of his 2 chances to give Newcastle the lead it could have lead to a different outcome. Similarly if Ben Arfa’s shot against the post had bounced off it and into the net, rather than across goal and back into play, when the score was 2-0, it could have gave Newcastle a way back into the game. All ifs and buts of course, however they do serve to highlight some near misses for Newcastle that on another day could have earned them something from the game.
As it was some uncharacteristic mistakes proved costly for Newcastle with each Man City goal a result of their opponents’ defensive indecisions and errors. Although Newcastle defended reasonably well on the whole against the league’s top scorers, we are told time and again that defensive mistakes will be seized upon in the Premier League and this proved to be the case for Newcastle against Man City.
Newcastle remained in 3rd position on 25 points after the defeat, although they could drop down to 4th position should Tottenham beat Aston Villa on Monday night.
Next up for the Magpies is the 2nd of 3 consecutive fixtures against the other sides currently occupying the top 4 and another trip to Manchester to face the United variety at Old Trafford on Saturday 26 November, 3pm kick off. It is hoped that Tiote, Obertan and Best will be able to return from injury to boost Newcastle’s chances in what is already an extremely different fixture at a ground that they tend to return home from empty handed.
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