What: Barclays Premier League Who: Newcastle United (19th, 5pts / 21pts) Vs Manchester City (11th, 9pts / 21 pts) When: Monday 20th October, 19:45 BST Where: St James Park, Newcastle
Polarising problems hound these two clubs. City, however much Mark Hughes tries, cannot shake off the ‘cash-rich’ tag as the media speculate as to which big-name players will arrive over the coming months, while Joe Kinnear’s Magpies outfit look to haul themselves out of the relegation zone after one of the most troublesome spells in their history.
The Eastlanders, having snapped up Robinho on the final day of the season as well as adding the likes of £18 million man Jo and the assured presence of Vincent Kompany, have started the season indifferently. The 6-0 drubbing of Portsmouth and the earlier 3-0 victories over Sunderland and West Ham United suggested big things and, clearly, when the attack with a Brazilian touch hits form, they can rip teams apart.
They have, though, taken just nine points from a possible 21, suffering a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Wigan Athletic and 4-2 loss to Aston Villa, though that result, as well as the defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool, can hardly be described as ‘certain three-pointers’.
Alas, the mention of Liverpool will haunt Hughes, for the opening 45 minutes in his side’s clash with Rafa Benitez’s title-chasers had added credence to the suggestion that City are capable of breaking into the unforgiving group of four at the top of the league. Fast forward a further 45 (or for you pedants out there, 51) minutes, and the former Wales and Blackburn Rovers manager had been reminded as to why many are treating The Reds as serious title contenders this time round, with a brace from the league’s best striker, Fernando Torres, followed up with heart-breakingly late winner from Dirk Kuyt.
In the north east, meanwhile, a glimmer of light has descended from the otherwise storm-ridden clouds to suggest Newcastle United may be capable of pushing City.
In summary, Kevin Keegan’s departure, Mike Ashley’s declaration that he wants to sell the club, the ongoing takeover rumours, and then Joe Kinnear’s outburst in a media conference have culminated in farcical scenes at St James’ Park.
However, the former Wimbledon and Nottingham Forest boss has united the club – perhaps his intention with the vitriolic condemning of one certain Mirror journalist – in that, aside from the owner, the fans are embracing Kinnear’s whirlwind revolution.
Yes, it may seem premature to suggest that The Magpies have emerged from a summer of discontent of grandiose proportions, given that they managed only a draw in their last match, but it was the fashion in which Steven Taylor et al fought back from two goals down to level the match with goals either side of the interval that has spread such unusual optimism.
In truth, they could and perhaps should have won it, and it says a thousand words that the Newcastle fans celebrated the result like it was a win given the way in which they had lost their last six games on the trot.
City's away form will be of particular focus for Hughes, with the side managing just three points - courtesy of the vistory over Sunderland - thus far. Newcastle's home form, however, won't spread too much fear throughout the visiting players given that The Magpies have won just the single game here in front of their loyal supporters so far.
We could enjoy an open encounter at St James' Park, and the result will come down to who converts their chances. Newcastle will suffer from the loss of Michael Owen, while Robinho may enjoy another moment in the limelight as he looks to repeat the kind of tricks that mesmerised audiences around the world following Brazil’s win over Venezuela earlier this month.
Arguably, the pressure is on City to replicate the success they enjoyed here last term - one of just six teams to do so - while Newcastle are like the wounded animal willing to do whatever it takes to climb up the table. While Hughes will favour finesse, Kinnear will tell his troops to fight like it is their last top-flight appearance, and thus the favourites won’t have it all their way.
5 Oct – Everton 2 – 2 Newcastle Untied
27 Sept – Newcastle United 1 – 2 Blackburn Rovers
24 Sept – Newcastle United 1 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur (Carling Cup)
20 Sept – West Ham United 3 – 1 Newcastle United
13 Sept – Newcastle United 1 – 2 Hull City
5 Oct - Manchester City 2 – 3 Liverpool
2 Oct – Manchester City 2 – 1 Omonia Nicosia (Uefa Cup)
28 Sept – Wigan Athletic 2 – 1 Manchester City
24 Sept – Brighton 2 – 2 Manchester City (Carling Cup)
21 Sept – Manchester City 6 – 0 Portsmouth
The biggest blow to Kinnear’s plans is the loss of Michael Owen, with the England international suffering a groin strain in training which will rule him out for a few days.
Obafemi Martins, meanwhile, is in contention for a starting berth, though it’s likely he’ll be handed a place on the bench instead, while the match is almost certain to have come too soon for Jonas Gutierrez. Habib Beye is definitely back in the fold, however, to give his manager a boost.
Likely XI: Given, Beye, Taylor, Coloccini, N'Zogbia, Geremi, Butt, Guthrie, Duff, Xisco, Ameobi.
Hughes has no new injury worries to speak of, with most of those on international duty returning relatively unscathed. Robinho has shaken off a dead leg which threatened his participation, while Martin Petrov is definitely out with knee ligament damage sustained in his appearance for Bulgaria.
Likely XI: Hart, Garrido, Dunne, Richards, Ball, Ireland, Kompany, Wright-Phillips, Robinho, Jo, Elano
PLAYERS TO WATCH
It’s likely that Shola Ameobi will be asked to lead the line against City in Owen’s absence, and that could be good and bad for the visitors.
Good if the Nigerian-born striker can perform as his potential initially suggested, with his gangly appearance belying the ability he has with the ball at his feet. Bad, however, if he doesn’t, and thus The Magpies are a toothless spectator as City rip through them with their own attacking flair.
It’s inevitable, and it’s Robinho. While City fans are yet to see the very best of the mercurial forward, they have certainly seen enough to warrant the excitement that his £32.4 million move instigated.
The trickery he showed in Brazil’s game with Venezuela would have made Cristiano Ronaldo weep with jealousy, but it’s finding consistency with such performances that Hughes will most be looking for. He’s scored goals for the Eastlanders already, but City’s manager will be looking for him to further ease the burden on Jo’s shoulders.
This really will be a clash of epic proportions, with the visitors needing a win to kick-start another push up the table, while Kinnear’s men look to build on a much-improved performance in the draw with Everton.
I predict it’ll be the art of City versus the brawn of Newcastle, and while the visitors are yet to draw, that could be about to end.
Newcastle United 2 – 2 Manchester City