Man City maybe be struggling for goals but a clash with leaky Newcastle may be just what the doctor ordered; here’s our tactical preview…
This looks set to be a pure attack versus defence game, and given that Manchester City are struggling to play with any real tempo at the moment, that points to a tedious game for neutrals. A deep-lying defence, whose players shuffle across in stubborn formation, can deny City points – as West Brom showed last week.
But Newcastle are much worse at parking the bus than you might think. Leeds United tore them to shreds a week ago, while in the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea and the 4-1 defeat to Manchester United, Steve Bruce’s side were oddly decompressed between the lines, only vaguely holding a deep defensive shape. The way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side easily broke through midfield should give Man City fans hope of a comfortable win.
Key battle zone
Having scored just two goals in their last three games, Man City may not steamroll Newcastle even if the Magpies fail to compress space in the final third; the speed of their passing is simply too slow, and without a constant press the front end of the pitch is looking disconnected. But while Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan will shuffle the ball meekly through the middle, City can win the game on their left flank.
Raheem Sterling isn’t in the best of form, and yet he holds the key to victory – should Kevin de Bruyne choose to target this flank. Newcastle are consistently vulnerable here, with Ezjgan Alioski and Jack Harrison dominant from the left in Leeds’ 5-2 win and Marcus Rashford excelling here in Man Utd’s 4-1 victory. Whether it’s Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin or Jeff Hendrick on the right, Newcastle just can’t get a grip of this flank.
Keep an eye on… Bruce’s formation
Bruce has used three distinct formations throughout this season, and frankly none of them is working. In a 5-4-1 they lack the ability to counter-attack, leading to suffocating performances and, ultimately, defeats. In a 4-3-3 they are hopelessly open, lacking bodies in the wide areas and seemingly unable to find any balance.
The less said about the recent conversion to a 4-4-2 the better. Bruce may choose a 5-4-1 in order to pack the penalty area with bodies, but if he does then De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez may find too much space in central areas against a two-man midfield. If he chooses the 4-5-1, it’ll be down to Sterling to find gaps.
One to watch… Sergio Aguero
A series of injuries means Sergio Aguero has only once played 70-plus minutes of a football match since March, and that was a routine Champions League win over Porto in October. Aguero, who scored in that game, has played 119 minutes since, scoring one more goal in a 3-0 win over Marseille. He was an unused substitute in last weekend’s win over Southampton – and therefore is in line to start on Boxing Day.
City have badly missed their talisman. Gabriel Jesus has found the net twice in 630 minutes of Premier League football this season, while Ferran Torres is understandably struggling to make an impact as he adjusts to life in England. Newcastle’s defence is leaky. This could be the perfect game for Aguero to announce his return.
Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org