Thursday 19 April 2018

Pep planning for more goals from his City slickers

Sergio Aguero beats Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow with the faintest of touches to score Manchester City’s first goal. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Sergio Aguero beats Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow with the faintest of touches to score Manchester City’s first goal. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Luke Edwards

If Liverpool came up with the blueprint to beat Manchester City, Newcastle United looked at it, ripped it up and tossed it in the bin, fully aware they did not have the tools to make it work.

The result was predictable, the outcome never in serious doubt, the sense of drama vanquished.

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez effectively decided, as far as his team are concerned, they were unbeatable. Photo: Reuters/Lee Smith
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez effectively decided, as far as his team are concerned, they were unbeatable. Photo: Reuters/Lee Smith

They might have lost a game at last, but City are not going to throw away the title, because there are too many Premier League sides who are incapable of competing against them.

Their lead - 12 points with 14 games to play - is mathematically vulnerable, but it continues to look unassailable.

Having lost for the first time in the Premier League for almost 10 months at Anfield, Newcastle were ideal opponents for Pep Guardiola's side to get back into the groove.

Routine

This was a case of sliding effortlessly into the old routine and you suspect they will face a tougher test, when they rest key players, against Bristol City in the second leg of the Carabao Cup tomorrow because the Championship side will throw everything at them.

Newcastle's resistance was brave, yet passive in this 3-1 defeat. They sat deep, defended their area and allowed City to dictate everything other than when they scored the goals to win the game.

City are not invincible - Liverpool proved that - but Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez effectively decided, as far as his team are concerned, they were unbeatable. The Magpies did not try to win; they tried to protect their goal difference.

It was a non-contest, another damage-limitation exercise and the most depressing thing is, you cannot blame the Spaniard.

Newcastle have largely kept the same squad that did not exactly dominate the Championship last season, even if they did go up as champions.

Benitez's approach to this game was pragmatic. He spared his players a thrashing and ensured the pain was restricted in terms of goals against.

"If we have the players to attack, we attack," said Benitez. "But you have to defend against the best team in the country, you have to defend.

"We're not Liverpool, we're not Arsenal. We don't have five players who will win a game on their own. Managers have to manage in the way they have to manage.

"My first game with Extremadura was against Barcelona. We lost 1-0, but we played 4-4-2. We pressed high, but the difference between that and now is massive.

"The gap between the best teams and the rest is bigger. There is a massive difference between the rest and the top six."

In other words, the Premier League is no longer the most competitive league in the world.

That is not City's fault, but they are to blame. Guardiola's side are too good, too strong. They have too many of the best players and are too adept at finding a way to win.

If you merely try to defend against them, it is only a matter of time until they prise you open.

Raheem Sterling had already put the ball in the net, only for the effort to be ruled out for offside, when Sergio Aguero glanced in Kevin De Bruyne's cross.

He scored his second from the penalty spot, after Sterling had made the most of an arm on the shoulder from Javier Manquillo.

The Argentinian completed his hat-trick after a wonderful, dancing, twisting dribble from Leroy Sane had put DeAndre Yedlin, Mohamed Diame and Jamaal Lascelles in a spin.

Routine

Aguero has scored 15 goals in 13 games against Newcastle, whose one positive was a bright performance from young winger Jacob Murphy, who scored his first goal for the club, running clear and lifting the ball over goalkeeper Ederson.

As for Guardiola, there was just a smug look of satisfaction, of knowing his team are superior to the rest.

"The dream is to have as much possession as we did (85pc) and create even more chances," the City manager said.

"At Barcelona it happened and Munich as well. Most teams defend like this. It is not easy to attack them.

"What do we concede playing that way? Absolutely nothing. We analyse the result, but we also have to remember how many shots on target you concede.

"When you concede 10 and win, you have to be worried. We concede one. And how many chances do we create? A lot, more than three.

''The players believe in that way. We are safer playing this way than defending our own box.''

For all that, the Catalan is still preaching caution and noted how, in 1996, Newcastle let the same lead slip at this stage of the season and eventually collapsed to a runners-up finish.

"Today I read Newcastle dropped a 12-point advantage years ago and United won the league," Guardiola said.

"Two months ago, I heard that the Premier League is done. We passed 'the Premier League is done' and you lose one game?

"I said many times that is going to happen. In Anfield we can lose. What is important is the reaction we have to do.

"Still we have 42 points to play. It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like today, like it was in Liverpool."

The City manager added: "I don't have the feeling we give up. Today the team was so quiet in our meetings, quiet in the warm-up. That feels (like) the people has focus and that is so important."

Guardiola admitted that he has discussed targets for the final 14 league games with his players as he believes it is beneficial to look "forwards".

"I cannot deny, we spoke about that (targets)," he said. "We have two chances - to see what happened behind or to see what happens in the 11 games we have to win. The best way is to maintain forwards. What happened happened.

"I said to them, until fixture 24 we were the best team, but that doesn't count. It counts after fixture 38. Still we have 14 and to win 10 or 11 games, it will be tough. Every team play for something, to stay here, for Europa League, for Champions League and they'll be focused.

"I said: 'Don't look back, don't look at our contenders behind, look at what we have to achieve'. If you try to wait what happened behind, if we look at what they do, that is not a good solution from my experience.

"If we go forward we are going to win games and after we will be closer to the championship." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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