Manchester City were hardly troubled by Newcastle United while handing a first defeat of the year to the Tyneside outfit, despite needing two penalties to create the ultimately comfortable 3-1 scoreline. The seats have cleared, the blood has settled from our brains, and we can step back and rationally view where we are today compared to where we were 24 hours ago. It is easy to push the panic button after the first defeat in a season, especially when it is dealt rather comprehensively, but when we sit back and look at our actual status versus reasonable expected outcomes, it is much harder to push that button.
We're all reasonable folks*, so let's calmly follow the jump and see what we can see.
*I myself am new to this whole reasonable reaction type deal... my previous interactions with some of my other teams would tell the whole story. I try very hard, though, because on the whole, sports are more fun when a loss doesn't ruin the several hours or days that follow it.
First off, let us resolve that neither of the following ESPN-approved descriptions are acceptable or accurate for the match:
- Manchester City did not "dismantle" Newcastle United. Frankly, they struggled to break us down in the run of play. While the penalties were earned and were correct (regardless your opinion of Micah Richards' ease to ground from the Ben Arfa "challenge"), City did not walk willy-nilly through Newcastle's defense.
- Neither was Newcastle United "blown away" by Manchester City. There was a gulf in class, and it was comprehensive. Ultimately, though, the match has come down to three rather dreadful mistakes on our part- the handball on Raylor, the failure to clear three minutes later that led to the second goal, and the one time that we completely lost defensive form at all during the match which led to HBA needing to come back into the box as defensive cover.
Second, let us resolve that winning the Premier League is not an attainable goal for this Newcastle squad, nor should we allow our game-to-game expectations to be tempered as though it is.
- If we establish a baseline expectation of Premiership survival (which is a low expectation), consider that we are still 16 points ahead of the drop.
- Fixture-to-fixture, we are 19 points ahead of our record from last year. If we add those straight on to last year's point total, we are looking at 65 points, which would have been good for 5th place in the league last year. Even if we lose ground on our current pace, we are still solidly in the top-half of the table easily, which is about what the mean expectation is accepted to be (not qualifying for Europe, but still in the top half).
Third, let us resolve that as a fan base we should generally be above the one-bad-mach witch hunts that are popular amongst, well, every fan base.
- Ryan Taylor had a bad match. He was culpable for the first two goals, and I would have to watch a replay of the run in to the final penalty to be sure that he wasn't somehow involved in that one as well, seeing as how it was his spot that HBA was covering when he "bundled" Micah Richards over. To overlap back a couple of points, I think that it speaks to the general tenor of the game from the City side that this tactic was where they felt they needed to go in order to solve the Newcastle defense.
- Despite this, he has performed solidly at the left back spot for 11 games before this match. Asserting that he should be dropped for this match against this City squad is inane. Personally, I believe that Ryan should and will keep his spot. There is responsible discussion to be had, however, if you want to assert that Davide Santon would be a better selection at the left back to allow Jonas to slide back forward along the wing and relax his defensive responsibilities if only just slightly. It should be noted, however, that Raylor ends up with a lot of the responsibilities from 18-yard box to touch on both the defensive and offensive ends, just as Danny Simpson does on the right hand side... so it would be a tenuous argument at best.
Fourth, let us resolve that we truly missed Cheik Tiote much more than we thought we would have.
- The triangle of strength that is Saylor, Coloccini and Tiote, if intact, would likely have removed Raylor from the situational problems that ended up causing his poor performance.
- In addition, his calmness and passing accuracy would have helped stem the City build up that occurred for the first 40 minutes of the match at least to some degree. Too often we would resort to the "hoof it down the field and regain shape" defense. . . building from the back-center through Tiote at the very least would have bought us a little bit more time to reset defensively, which may (or may not have) helped us get to halftime at 1-0 or even 0-0... at which point the second half plays out very differently.
Fifth, let us resolve that Gabriel Obertan needs to be healthy one week from today.
- Sammy Ameobi is a tremendous talent, and will be a fantastic player for us, but he was not ready for that stage, and his defensive decision making did little to nothing to help the team out in the first 40 minutes.
- Dan Gosling, if he is really rated behind Sammy on the depth chart despite his general classification as a Right Wing/Right Back, is not the answer in that spot either. I have seen suggestion that Raylor be slid over onto the right wing with Santon coming in at left back, and while that passes the logic test on one level (ostensibly that Raylor can function on the right wing), it does not stand as well when you consider that: a) we know that Raylor works at left back and b) Gaby has worked very well on the right. Changing the lineup for change's sake is the quickest way to introduce disharmony into the side with minimum effort. . . and is something that Alan Pardew is surely to canny to allow to happen based on every bit of information available to us from the season to date.
Ultimately, our position hasn't changed all that much over where it was on Friday. At worst, we will be sitting fourth in the table on goal differential behind Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. With this result, we have dropped exactly 0 points to last year's squad, so we still sit 19 points ahead of last year's squad. We saw exactly what we should have expected to see-- a £300m squad demonstrate it's implicit superiority over a squad that is not valued even one third that total. In a 3-match #StretchOfDoom, we are 0 points from 3 so far, with 6 points still outstanding. Even the optimists amongst us were hoping for a haul of 3 or 4 points from the 9 on offer from this stretch, and that is still attainable. Even still... even if we don't attain that target, we're still far better off compared to realistic expectation for this squad than anyone would have deemed possible. So for now, enjoy your week worth of "We told you Newcastle hadn't been tested" or "Watch out! That is Newcastle United plummeting to earth!" or whatever similar storyline the assembled brains of the press want to trot out. On 7 days time, it is a new game and a new opportunity, and we will have every bit as good of a chance at taking points from Old Trafford now as we did yesterday.