After taking four points from two matches to begin the new year, Newcastle United now prepare for a daunting task of taking points from Manchester City on the road.
Manchester City will host Newcastle United at the Etihad on Saturday. With Manchester City suffering their first defeat of the season to Liverpool last weekend, the Magpies face an insurmountable challenge of avoiding defeat from a top-quality side that is full of motivation.
While most fans in Newcastle do not value the match against Manchester City due to the disparity in talent of each club, this is an important match for both teams.
On one end is Manchester City who aim to bounce back from their loss to Liverpool to avoid their city rivals, Manchester United, from closing the gap between first and second place. Then there is Newcastle United seeking to earn points to widen the gap between themselves and the bottom three.
Manchester City are clear favorites coming into this match and the general expectation is that the Sky Blues will claim a comfortable victory over the Magpies. However, the Premier League is full of surprises and for that reason, Newcastle United should not be overlooked nor undermined. If the underdogs in black and white stripes wish to steal a point or three this weekend, here are three tactics Rafa Benitez should consider using.
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Although the media is focused on Manchester City’s 4-3 loss to Liverpool, it is important to remember that Manchester City has drawn twice as well. One of those draws came against Crystal Palace, a game which should serve Rafa Benitez well in terms of tactical preparation.
Manchester City was the superior side in the match despite the outcome, but Crystal Palace gave the Sky Blues significant trouble through their wing play. This is a tactic that Newcastle United must utilize with Christian Atsu and either Jacob Murphy or Matt Ritchie on the wings.
With a roster comprised of strikers who cannot create their own scoring opportunities, the Magpies must emulate the wing play of Crystal Palace to feed the ball into the penalty box.
Newcastle United have rarely won the possession battle against the opposition this season. Even League Two side Luton Town had a 51 to 49 possession advantage against Newcastle at St. James’ Park. With that being said, instead of the Magpies sitting back and allowing Manchester City to swing the ball side to side, Benitez’s men must present Manchester City with high pressure.
A key observation from Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City is that Sadio Mane’s goal to put Liverpool up 3 to 1 resulted from high pressure. Seven, yes, seven Liverpool players surrounded the back four of Manchester City in their own half which led to horrendous passing, a steal and a goal.
In the case of Newcastle United, due to the quality of the players on the team sheet, that high pressure could open the door to counter attacks for Manchester City, however, it is worth attempting every now and then, especially in the first half.
On the defensive end of the pitch, Rafa Benitez is not known for playing defenders out of position. The central defenders have never started out on the wings, and the wing defenders have never moved into center roles. In order to have a chance against Manchester City, the Magpies should focus on zonal marking rather than man-to-man position-based marking.
This tactic would enable the Magpies to disrupt the attacking rhythm of Manchester City instead of solely focusing on how to stop one individual. Moreover, zonal marking enables defenders to switch on routes and focus more on one area of the pitch to intercept passes and block off runs. While it is hard to imagine Jamaal Lascelles switching with DeAndre Yedlin every now and then, it may work in Newcastle’s favor if they seek to steal points on the road.