The Ped Christmas Report Vol II Newcastle 0-1 City
It was not pretty and on occasions not so ugly as City set about their latest task on a cold and wintry Tyneside last night. You know the type of evening, the one where City`s fancy-Dan footballers certainly won`t fancy playing. The sort of night where the opportunity would arise for the chasing pack to nibble away at City`s record top of the table lead.
Wrong again, for despite a miserable attempt at stubborn resistance by Newcastle United, the Blues still walked out of the St James`s Park door with three points and another record was born.
Guardiola managed a mini shake up of his esteemed pack with David Silva needed once again by his family in Valencia and replaced by his namesake Bernardo. Aguero was preferred ahead of de Jesus and there was room for Gundogan in midfield due to the absence of Sane. Danilo was given an outing at the expense of Delph.
The game started with Shelvey having a shot. Maybe it was one for the bookies but at least it can be said that Newcastle got one on target from the off. Immediately Ederson gathered the ball the pattern was established. With the Mags lined-up 5-4-1 with the 1 marking Fernandinho, the stage was set for another frustrating night of attacking football being obliterated by a team intent on smothering space and offering their magnificent supporters nothing. There was an eerie silence about St James's with the Toon Army out in force but anything but noisy.
Wave after wave of City attacks were repelled by the gallant operatives in black and white, but as has proved the case in recent matches of similar quality, it was only a matter of time before the Man City machine flexed its muscles.
Whereas Aguero was pretty much clinical in his application against Bournemouth, tonight was another of those nights where he produced a catalogue of "if Onlys" as time and again the quality balls played into him went unconverted either by weak finishing or him running the wrong channel. The one time he got solid contact it brought an excellent save from Elliott.
Selecting Kompany for this encounter was probably a mistake, especially as once again he consigned himself to the recycle bin after only 10 minutes. Guardiola seeing that the Magpies offered no threat put on de Jesus, leaving Fernandinho to shore up the missing centre back position and Gundogan to flit from attacking midfield to defensive if needed. The truth be told, in the first half, except for a self-inflicted offering to Newcastle which was headed off the line by Otamendi, defenders were a bit surplus to requirements for City.
Which begs the question as to why Newcastle didn`t need snookers by half-time.
They should have done but once again we saw a penalty area full of people flinging their bodies at anything that moved and nothing would go in to Elliott`s net. That was until on the half hour when a delicious pass from de Bruyne went precisely into the space that Sterling was attacking and the new-found genius slid the ball inside the near post. It was a neat goal because it was destined for his right foot but he had to change his mind at a moment`s notice and use his left.
The travelling Blue Mooners were hoping for an onslaught but the Mags continued to sit in their shape at least until half time. By then City had missed a bagful of chances and really needed a second goal to make the game safe. But they failed to do that and as the second half progressed Newcastle became braver and introduced faster players such as Atsu and Gayle and at last, for them one or two things started to happen. They took City out of their comfort zone, deprived them of free access to the ball and went for an unlikely equaliser. It was to the tribute of City`s defence, often maligned, and midfield that it didn`t arrive.
Gayle was booked for diving following a non-challenge from Danilo and then with seconds left on the clock he had Ederson at full stretch, but his headed chance went just wide of the upright.
And that was that. City, the team that usually punishes other teams who play in this way, were simply happy to get out of the door with three points and extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to a massive fifteen points, which in reality is probably an eight-match spread. So it is now a ten-match season for those in pursuit. And if we win every match and so do the Stretfords (ha ha) City will win the title the week before we play them. Guard of honour, do you think?
There is still a lot to do before then, but this performance perhaps underlined the ways in which City can look complacent. Believing that Newcastle would offer nothing lead them into a false sense of security. Rafa Benitez is no mug and his tactical switches very nearly paid off - City had never beaten a team under his stewardship until last night. At least some things change but thankfully for the Blues, the result didn`t. City showed they can dig deep and win 1-0. Sometimes that has to happen. Some say City are ruining football but that can only be because their opponents don`t want to offer any football against them, including the Stretfords.
Crystal Palace and Watford are on the horizon and if City can beat those two it will set a new record for consecutive wins, beating Pep`s own record with FC Bayern. It`s a record a week for City right now.
I was disappointed to see Virgil Van Dijk finally sign for Liverpool, a source of deep joy for Susan yesterday. I`ve told her he is potentially Vincent Kompany reincarnate, but I think another goalkeeper should now be a priority for Klopp. Has the funding for this come from the anticipated sale of Coutinho, I wonder?
Finally, I have to ask.. is there a better and more consistent player than Fernandinho right now in the Premier League? The plaudits go out to De Bruyne, Sterling, Morata and Salah. They hit the headlines week-in, week-out but Fernandinho is extraordinary, linking defence with attack at the drop of a hat.
Guardiola has a history of improving footballers. We have seen that with Otamendi, Stones, Delph and even Mangala, but Fernandinho is a masterclass every time he steps onto the field. He has certainly attracted my admiration for his application to the cause. He will be a long way from anyone`s team of the year because the idiots who declare them will go with the likes of Pugba for reasons unknown, but make no mistake about it, if City do bring home the trophies this season, one of the main reasons is the high level that Fernandinho has set himself and has stuck to.