Newcastle United could do nothing to stop the slowly murderous tidal wave coming from Manchester City. It was enough at 3-0, but of course Foden (from the bench) and Sterling (for the second time, because why not?) had to send up the 5-0 score to the bright Mancunian sky. It’s time to pour some quick reactions about what went down at the Etihad earlier today.
Let’s get it poppin’.
Three Quick Thoughts
1. Ancelotti’s Christmas Tree didn’t work for the Magpies
Perhaps Eddie Howe saw last Wednesday’s game between Manchester City and Real Madrid, and he thought he could replicate the philosophies employed by winning and experienced coach Carlo Ancelotti: the glorious 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree Formation. Newcastle deployed a line of four to which Allan Saint-Maximin was supposed to drop—one he basically just couldn’t stay on top of things nor think about two things at the same time, so he never did—followed by a line of three midfielders, two kinda-attacking midfielders, and Wood on top of everything. When on possession at some points through the first half, it was more of a 4DEF + Longstaff/Bruno/Almirón + Joelinton/ASM + Wood.
All of that is cool, but circling back to that ASM thing... Ugh. City’s first goal came out of a glaring mistake by the Frenchman, who lost complete track of Joao Cancelo on the left and did (not) enough to leave him completely open to loft a ball that Sterling put past Dubravka. Targett can’t be blamed because he followed other City attackers on defense assuming Saint-Maximin was going to cover for the hole vacated in the left flank. But, nope. Not a lot of effort from ASM on defense, but that’s nothing new. I only hope Howe studies the tape from the whole season and comes out realizing ASM only is viable on the attacking phase of the game but a mediocre asset on defensive duties because of a staggering lack of ability/interest at that.
2. The Bruno, ASM, and Chris Wood Triumvirate is severely flawed
Completely out of context, every player is worth something. In the wrong context, things can get very murky. That’s what happened today against Manchester City when it came to the trio of Bruno, Saint-Maximin, and lone-forward Chris Wood in the offensive transition on counter-attacking plays. Bruno is a football genius capable of creating chances out of thin air. ASM is a mad lad, but he knows how to run forward with the ball and has some cleverness and bright touches baked into his game—though they’re hard to make flourish often, it seems. Wood...
Wood is an extraordinary target man. And that is precisely what makes him great out of context, but a player not suited for what United tried to do today in quickly building from the back and trying to rush forward to catch City sleeping. By the time Wood wants to reach the opposition’s area after a combination between Bruno and ASM (or Miggy, or Joelinton, or any other player capable of running not at snail’s pace) and become a threat, well, the play is most probably over with ASM running out of options and doing something that might look stupid but ultimately was his lone path to ending the attack—making it the actual smart (albeit dumb, of course) move. This should be a very either/or thing to study for Howe entering the summer transfer window. Do Newcastle want to have a target man, and bomb him crosses on an on, or a fluid and quick team full of players who know how to counterattack rivals as a cohesive, packed, close, one-for-all-and-all-for-one unit?
3. Getting there, but not quite yet
The second half was unbearable because Manchester City just anesthetized it as Pep Guardiola’s sides usually do to perfection. But the first half alone (even with the scoreboard still at just 2-0) was enough for me to make this point. City’s first half wasn’t one of true domination when it came to chance generation. Yes, they had the ball (62% possession), but they only shot five times on target to United’s one. They didn’t need anymore. Newcastle might have needed to play 180 minutes to turn one play into an open-play goal. Seriously.
What I’m saying is that, as was the case in a couple of games against Real Madrid in the Champions League, City and Real just have it, while Newcastle just don’t. It’d be a lot to ask for, obviously, but if Newcastle wants to fight head-to-head to these types of behemoths they should be getting a bit closer to hitting when the iron is hot. As long as Wilson keeps getting good passes but whiffing them, Wood doesn’t run parallel to his teammates to be in a position to hit a killer pass on goal, or guys don’t power-head corners and crosses into the nets instead of straight to the keeper, Newcastle isn’t getting past the 8th place in the Premier League table. Now, or next year, or the following one, or ever. There is still time (we’re just half a year and one transfer window into the post-Ashley era!) but the surgical efficiency must arrive at some point or the ascension through the English football pecking order will be very tilted against the Magpies.
Game Recap and Top-3 Players coming tomorrow.
Howay the Lads!