City may need a rethink as Guardiola starts to look predictable
The cost of Manchester City being held to a 2-2 draw at Newcastle is likely to prove significant for the visitors, whose weaknesses this season were again exposed. The result suggests their problems are not minor and could be harder to resolve than initially thought.
They do not look as motivated, inevitably perhaps, after dominating domestically for two years. Neither do they seem as confident.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
There is a hint of doubt in their play - maybe they fear they are already in decline and have been too slow to realise it.
It would be dangerous to argue such a thing. City were supposedly going to allow Liverpool to become champions following a 2-1 defeat by Newcastle in January, and responded by winning all their remaining league fixtures, along with both cup competitions, to hammer home the riposte.
Dangerous as City demand respect, but neither is it such a wild claim on the basis of recent form. Too much of City's attacking play has become predictable, they are easier to anticipate and, therefore, defend against.
League rivals have spent three years studying how Pep Guardiola wants his side to play and are finding more effective ways to combat it.
Newcastle did not merely defend their area - a long-established tactic against superior opponents, but a previously ineffective counter measure against City.
They pushed wingers, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin, inside so that they also defended the edge of the box rather than their wings.
It left space out wide, but Steve Bruce effectively decided he would rather ask City's full-backs to cross into a crowded box than let the clever and more creative players have space to pick passes through the middle.
City still created chances, with Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne on target, but this was a makeshift Newcastle defence, too.
And although Bruce's team only had a handful of shots on target, they repeatedly threatened to get in behind City's defence. For Newcastle the point felt like a victory. The home side were excellent.
It was a team performance of grit, yes, but also flashes of quality.
Well organised and disciplined, they were exciting going forward and if they can play like this consistently, nobody will enjoy facing them.
Bruce got his tactics right and, although they were lucky Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan missed good chances in the second half, the goal they did concede was down to the brilliance of De Bruyne.
What should really encourage Bruce and the fans who are starting to drift back into the stadium, after several thousand stayed away in disgust following Rafael Benitez's departure, Newcastle did not fold, give up or panic.
This was the second home game in a row Newcastle have managed to find a way to collect points after falling behind.
That will raise confidence, on and off the pitch, but it will also make other teams wary.
It has not been pretty, but Newcastle are becoming a difficult side to play at home and the old stadium is starting to regain some of its intimidation.
Both Newcastle goals were cleverly worked, Jetro Willems's coming at the end of a silky passing move, Saint-Maximin realising there would be space to exploit if three City players were rushing out to close him down out wide.
And although the second equaliser was a special strike from Jonjo Shelvey, it was also a smart free-kick trick, conning City into packing the box, only to roll it square for Newcastle's captain to curl beyond Ederson. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.