Pep Guardiola has often referred to Manchester City’s hectic fixture schedule as unhelpful, even if he accepts frequent fixtures as necessary if City want to fight on four fronts every year.
Ahead of City’s clash with Newcastle this weekend, Guardiola may be thankful for a short turnaround after the shock of what happened in Madrid on Wednesday. City should have been returning to the Etihad as Champions League finalists, but an inexplicable comeback from Real Madrid within 90 seconds either side of the 90-minute mark sparked another European collapse from the Blues.
Guardiola looked unsure of what to say after the game, giving reporters a basic overview of the game but little in the way of excuses or analysis. The players looked stunned and devastated, and they have kept a low profile on social media in the following days. Now, they must somehow raise themselves for a tough test against Newcastle. The resurgent Magpies might be the perfect opponent.
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City generally have a good record against Newcastle, especially at home. The Blues have won their last five fixtures with Newcastle in all competitions, and have lost just eleven in the last 13 meetings between the sides, winning ten of those meetings. At home, City have won six in a row and Newcastle have never won at the Etihad in the Premier League, winless in their last 17 league trips to City, and on a run of 12 league defeats at the Etihad in a row.
Pep Guardiola has lost one of his ten clashes with Newcastle, and the 4-0 win at St James’ Park was a lesson in soaking up pressure then asserting dominance. Newcastle have undoubtedly improved since then with 10 wins from the following 18 games and survival secured with relative ease under Eddie Howe after an impressive January transfer window.
While Newcastle have a dire record at the Etihad, they are a confident side nowadays and will sense a moment of weakness from City this weekend. Victory is far from guaranteed on Sunday, when anything but a win may hand Liverpool the title momentum.
So City must put the Madrid trip out of their minds and focus solely on beating Newcastle, who won’t roll over like other sides often do. They restricted Liverpool to just one goal at St James’ last week and were unlucky not to take at least a point from that game, and they represent one of the toughest tests City could face on their return from Madrid.
However, Newcastle haven’t beaten a ‘Big Six’ side all season, so City will be confident of returning to winning ways at the first attempt and refocussing on the title run-in. Hints of some squad disharmony have also rocked their preparations for their trip to Manchester, with an interview from Allan Saint-Maximin apparently taken out of context according to Howe.
Still, Saint-Maximin is one of a few who can pose City problems along with Bruno Guimaraes, Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and maybe even the returning Callum Wilson. City will have to play a strong side, work hard, and any win will be well-earned and therefore morale-boosting.
With Liverpool facing a potential banana-skin against Tottenham the night before, City have a weekend ahead that could be perfect for resetting the mind away from those 90 seconds in Madrid and back on retaining the Premier League title they’ve worked so hard to be in contention for.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.