Newcastle United will travel to The Etihad to play Manchester City on Saturday in the featured game of the week. The last time these two teams met in league play, City won 2-0 in the season opener.
Writing a match preview for such an affair seems like a pithy exercise, given Newcastle's evident disinterest in the remainder of the season and their terrible track record against City over the last several years. The club, through both word and deed, has proven that they do not care about match results for the remainder of the season. When a team doesn't care, they often do not win, and this is a match they were going to be hard-pressed to find a result from in the first place.
So, with that in mind, this match preview is more about looking toward the future. I've come up with four angles that don't completely depress me.
1. Who will play holding midfielder?
I'm including this one first because I've already written on it. Who Carver goes with, whether Vurnon Anita or Moussa Sissoko, will tell us a lot about how the club will proceed this summer. Do they trust Anita, or is it time to cut bait? Are we interested in using Moussa Sissoko's talents in a way that's productive for the team? Do we care about his happiness at all, or are we resigned to him leaving? This week's lineup may tell us more about these questions than any ill-advised interview with The Chronicle ever could.
2. Is John Carver really Alan Pardew in disguise?
By this I mean: Does he intend to follow the Pardew Playbook against Manchester City, or are we going to see an attempt to grab some points? My suspicion is that he will want to do his best to protect his only four defenders, which makes question #1 that much more important, and also means that we can expect a defensive, counter-attacking formation, with little emphasis placed on the actual attack part of the equation. If Carver is at all interested in differentiating himself, he can try to turn this into a 4-3 barnburner, but of course smart money is on the aforementioned defensive tactic that turns into a 3-0 drubbing anyway.
3. Will Massadio Haïdara grab hold of the left back spot?
Paul Dummett's injury, as awful as it is for the depth of the defensive unit, means we don't have to worry about him showing up on the team sheet at left back. The best case scenario is Haïdara playing so well that Carver (or a new manager, perhaps) spends the summer working on ways to play Dummett at center back instead. That starts with a respectable performance against Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas, which is no small task.
4. Can Ayoze Pérez snap out of his slump?
Ayoze started the season on fire, and it was long before people really started believing his claims that he could have played for any team in the world. The 21 year-old has arguably the brightest future of any Newcastle player, but lately he hasn't been scoring. His last goal came on 28 December, and since then he has had the look of a youngster who maybe hasn't developed the stamina to play a full season at a high level. The tactic in this match may surely betray him, giving him and anybody else Carver trots out at the front of the formation little chance to actually make an impact on the match. This fanbase is crying out for something to root for, however, and a bright future in the form of Ayoze is the best chance of keeping people paying attention during this lame duck period.
Projected lineup: Krul | Janmaat, Williamson, Coloccini, Haïdara | Cabella, Sissoko, Gouffran | Colback | Cissé, Ayoze
Score prediction: 0-3