When you think of Manchester City’s performances this season, you think of one-touch football, free-flowing counter-attacks and goals, goals, goals. All of that and, on occasion, the odd defensive collapse that ensures that the title race remains competitive. None of the above were present in an encounter that saw the Citizens heavily reliant on their back four. It was only the third time in the league this season that Manuel Pellegrini’s side have scored two or less and still managed to take all three points. The pleasing conclusion from this game for the manager is that when the champagne football was not coming off, they still found a way of winning. In such games earlier in the season they were always vulnerable to conceding a sucker-punch but on Sunday they had an air of solidity about them. Newcastle did cause them some problems and the game may have been different had Cheick Tiote’s first-half volley stood and given City something to chase again but as it was the result was never out of their control. The below-average goal tally will not worry Pellegrini as afternoons like this are commonplace in a long season, what matters come May is whether you can grind wins out of them.
Newcastle poor start to 2014 shows no signs of stopping. It is now four straight defeats in what has been a miserable New Year for Alan Pardew, who will be particularly alarmed by the fact that his side have only managed one goal in that period. To be fair, they were only prevented from doubling that total by referee Mike Jones, who decided that by standing in an offside position within six yards of Joe Hart’s eye line, Yoan Gouffran was interfering with play. Cheick Tiote’s magnificent volley should have stood but rather than smell the blood while they were dominant, the incident seemed to deflate the Magpies. The only other real scare for City was when a rare defensive mix-up allowed Loic Remy a clear sighting but he failed to find the corner. Aside from that they never put forward a convincing argument that the points were going anywhere but back to The Etihad. Yohan Cabaye struggled to dictate play in a more advanced position, while Moussa Sissoko and Remy did not create enough chances to justify their selection as wide players. Pardew may have to bring in one of two extra options in these areas to ensure their great end to 2013 does not go to waste.
When Joe Hart was initially dropped from the team back in November, it was unlikely that his absence from the team was ever going to be particularly lengthy. It was not a statement from Pellegrini that he thought Costel Pantilimon was a better keeper, more a slap on the wrists for a series of unacceptable mistakes. The six-or-so weeks away from the spotlight appears to have done the England number one the world of good and he produced an array of sharp and athletic saves that will do his confidence wonders. First he had to be alert to push away Cabaye’s close-range volley before acrobatically scrambling across his goal to deny the same player from 25 yards. He saved his best moment until last too, showing great reflexes to divert his leg into the path of Remy’s goal-bound volley. It was the sort of afternoon when it looked like there was no way past him and the Citizens will need more of those as they chase an unprecedented quadruple.
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