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Keep your enemies closer: A Q&A with Manchester City blog Bitter & Blue

We spoke with Manchester City blog Bitter & Blue ahead of Sunday's match.

Laurence Griffiths

Newcastle United open their season on Sunday when they host Manchester City. It is their second straight year to open with a match against the Citizens, who currently hold the Premier League title. I sat down with Sonics097 of SB Nation's excellent Manchester City blog, Bitter & Blue, to ask him our community-submitted questions.

Coming Home Newcastle: Every team has strengths and weaknesses. In your opinion, what is City's biggest strength, and what is their biggest weakness?

Bitter & Blue: Our biggest strength is probably our center midfielders. I wouldn't have said that last season, but upgrading Fernando over Javi Garcia means we have 3 CMs who complement each other quite well; Fernando who will be the anchor man and eat up the space between the defense and midfield, Fernandinho who will be the box-to-box guy with the endless engine, and Toure, who will rumble his tank further up the pitch and not need to track back as much (ideal, since he's not that great at that). They probably won't all play at the same time too often as there is no need for it against the weaker teams, but I could certainly see it being used in Europe. Our biggest weakness probably remains our belief in Champions League matches. Over the years, we've seen City be utterly dominated by some stronger teams in games both home and away. The worrying thing about those performances was the lack of confidence from a team swelling with stars. We need to play with the same swagger in Europe as we do in England if we want to progress in the Champions League. 

CHN: How much are you looking forward to winning your season opener 0-4?

B&B: Haha, I don't think we'll get away with it so easily this time. Last season was nice, but I don't expect Newcastle to lay down again, or for City to be too sharp in the first game.

CHN: Did you get Yaya a birthday card? More seriously, do you want to see Pellegrini divide the sqaud into essentially PL squad and a CL/Cup squad with maybe a few crossovers so that everyone is fresh and also maybe happier with their playing time?

B&B: I've already baked Yaya's cakes for his next 4 birthdays. If he wants to not end up in the hospital, he probably shouldn't eat them, but hey, it's the thought that counts. While we have a squad deep enough to field two teams, I don't know that it would even be realistic to do so. We'll have injuries no doubt. Kompany always misses at least 1/4 of the season, Silva will typically miss some time, and Aguero's legs are made of glass now. I'd like for Pellegrini to keep the same rotation policies as last season with the exception of Fernandinho and Zabaleta. Those two guys played way too many minutes and need to rest some more this year.

CHN: Will there be any adjustments to City’s style of play this year? If not, do you feel NUFC has improved their talent enough to at least be competitive?

B&B: I don't think there will be any major changes. There will be occasional use of a 3 CM lineup, but as I said before I don't see that happening much outside of the hardest matches. The core of the team remains the same. That being said, I think Newcastle have improved anyways. I don't know how things have been going with tactics, chemistry, etc., but I imagine they'll be up for it in the season opener.

CHN: Do you see City sticking with 2 up front (or at least 2 strikers by trade playing) for the duration of the season, or will they change it up and favour the wings more in order to gain more of a footing in Europe?

B&B: We'll definitely play the 2 striker lineup often. Negredo has a broken leg and Aguero is still unfit following the World Cup, but Dzeko is still around and Stevan Jovetic has been nothing short of awesome in the preseason. After missing practically all of last season with various injuries he will inject a new element in the attack and I imagine he will feature heavily at the start of the season, at least until he gets hurt. I'm really excited to see him play this season. In Europe I would imagine we see more cover in the wide midfield/wing areas, but it might not necessarily equate to wing play going forward. The team's philosophy typically relies on the wing backs bombing forward to occupy those channels so there is less need for true wingers in the team. This enables guys like Nasri to play wide but cut inside constantly and sift through the center.

CHN: Can we have one of your eleventy billion strikers? If you had to give one away for a fair price, which one would it be?

B&B: That's a good question, but probably an easy one to answer at this point. I'd give up Negredo at a fair price (and no, not just cause he's injured right now). Dzeko manages to find 15-20 goals a season, Jovetic has bags of potential still in his locker, and Aguero is, well, Aguerooooo.

CHN: Who is one under-the-radar player that could play a significant role this weekend?

B&B: Tough call as most of City's guys are well-profiled at this point. I'd put my money on Kolarov, though. He was immense last season and I'd expect to see the Serb flying down the left wing regularly again on Sunday. Of course Pellegrini could opt for Clichy (nothing wrong with that) but I'd bank on Kolarov starting.

CHN: What matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend?

B&B: That's a good question, made harder by the fact that I don't know a whole lot about Janmaat, Riviere, or Cabella just yet. I think I'd have to go with the battle in the center of the park. Will Newcastle start Anita and Colback together? If so they will likely have their hands full vs. Toure and Fernandinho. If City can control this area they'll likely control possession for large chunks of the 90.
PS- what's up with Ben Arfa? Is he going to be a starter this year?

CHN: If you were Alan Pardew, how would you approach a match against City?

B&B: Duck and cover? Just kidding. I'd try to follow the blueprint that was successful against City last season: press high, and pack the middle of the park. When City aren't allowed to play their style they get frustrated and doors open up for the opposition. Emphasis should also be placed on starting the game quickly and keeping City uncomfortable straight from the start.

CHN: What has to happen for you to consider this season a success?

B&B: We'll need to at the very least be in the PL race right until the end, and progress further in the Champions League. This year we should be in Pot 2 for the draw so our chances of winning the group are better. We need to start making a statement in Europe. A minimum of one trophy would be nice, but I don't like setting requirements like that.

CHN: Would you like to make a prediction for this match?

B&B: I'll go with 2-1 to City. I don't expect us to be at our sharpest as several starters (Kompany, Demichelis, Zabaleta/Sagna, Fernandinho) didn't even play in the preseason matches.

My thanks to Sonics097 for taking the time to answer our questions. Please visit Bitter & Blue for all things Manchester City.