If a person approached you in the street only a few short years back and informed you that in mid-November 2011 there will be a clash between first and third in the Premier League involving two unbeaten sides and that those two clubs were Manchester City and Newcastle United you would understandably assume that person was a mentalist.
If he then informed you that City were playing the kind of fantastical football that resulted in 6-1 hammerings at Old Trafford whilst the Geordies were so imperious at the back they resembled a Herrera-led Inter Milan you would be forgiven for backing slowly away, palms showing. “Sure pal, I believe you. And I suppose Demba Ba is a scoring sensation too hey?”
Yet that is precisely the surreal scenario we face this weekend; two clubs historically linked to glorious failure and inconsistency are now churning out performances that can only be described as sustained excellence. Or, more accurately in City’s case, sustained immensity.
They have achieved this through a meticulous adherence to an expensively drafted blueprint. Newcastle have overturned their fortunes by…well, nobody has the foggiest Tyne of a clue to be honest. God, Buddha and Stephen Hawking could head an official investigation and still emerge shrugging their collective shoulders.
Certainly a sizable portion of the credit must lie with Alan Pardew who has cleverly channelled every bit of negativity that has blighted the club of late and used it to foster a siege mentality amongst the players. In doing so he has turned one big frown upside down. His summer signings looked to be astute but nobody could have predicted the swiftness to which they’ve taken to their new surroundings. Cabaye in particular has been a sensational addition whilst behind his artful connivance the Newcastle backline have undergone a revolutionary transformation both individually and as a unit. Coloccini has become the assured colossus the Toon hoped they were buying from Spain; he still resembles Puyol’s freaky stoner brother but now he’s playing like him too. A name-drop too should go to Tim Krol between the sticks who is fast becoming a top class keeper. The young Dutchman has shown exceptional promise right from the word go but it is notoriously difficult to assess a callow number one – a few flashy displays early on can be deceiving. Krol however has now proven beyond any doubt that he is the rightful long-term successor to Given.
Possibly the brave venture of Warnock a fortnight ago has inadvertently done City a huge favour
I received a bit of flak on another wesbite recently when I attested that Newcastle won’t maintain their fine form over the course of the season and while I stick to that I don’t think the landslide will occur any time soon. Certainly not this weekend.
Pardew has alluded that he intends to copy QPR’s recent mandate and ‘take the game to City’. Whether he follows through with this claim remains to be seen away from home at a ground where the likes of Silva, Dzeko, Aguero and co have ran amok with goals this term and that was against teams who parked the proverbial bus. Possibly the brave venture of Warnock a fortnight ago has inadvertently done City a huge favour if teams now intend to open up and attack at the Etihad; with some sides it could equate to a bayonet charge against machine gun fire.
Though Cabaye and Nasri were doubts it appears there are no serious injury concerns for either outfit and the biggest factor may be fatigue from the more far-flung travellers after an international break. City are also expected to rest a few key personnel with a crucial trip to Naples on Tuesday.
My prediction – for what its worth and it isn’t worth much – is that it will be a tight game that opens up later with City running out 2-0 victors. My concern however is that City once again get off to a stolid, unsure start and that Newcastle capitalise with an early strike. If such a situation does occur it will make for a fascinating remainder with the best firepower around attempting to dismantle a thoroughly impressive rearguard.