With Arsenal dropping points yesterday, failing to take the points gap between third, fourth and fifth to a comfortable 4 points, both Newcastle and Tottenham will be fired up to take maximum points from their own games this weekend. The North Londoners have now lost control of their own destiny, and must hope that neither Newcastle nor their own closest city rivals can take advantage and move up into third and the lucrative promise of automatic Champions League qualification.
It is undoubtedly the North Easterners who have the more difficult prospect, welcoming the champions elect to St James Park for what looks like it might be a stellar affair. The atmosphere, at least, is bound to be electric, and Sky have made the right decision to share the fixture with their customers.
For the two clubs involved tomorrow at St James Park at 1.30pm, the fixture might well be the biggest of the season. Manchester City, the proverbial “noisy neighbours” sit at the top of the table, ahead of city rivals United on goal difference, and with their fate firmly in their own hands. Newcastle are currently fifth, on the same points as Tottenham Hotspur, but trailing on goal difference by some distance, their claim for Champions League qualification dependent upon picking up all six points from their final two games. Whatever the outcome, there could well be a lot of money on the line.
The tide of power is changing. A couple of years ago neither Man City nor Newcastle were anywhere near the top four, and yet tomorrow could crown one of them Champions or move the other as high as third, with a single league game to negotiate on the way to Champions League qualification. In the words of Sky Sports, it DOESN’T come any bigger than this.
Man City come into the game on the back of four straight league victories, including an impressive home win against Man Utd in which the Reds were reduced to playing only one up top and trying to contain their opponents – a rare moment of tactical weakness by Sir Alex Ferguson. They are full of confidence, and have the smell of their first Premier League title in their nostrils. But Newcastle have lost only once in the last eight games – away to Wigan – and come into the game having brushed Chelsea aside on their own patch thanks to two astonishingly good goals from Papiss Cisse. To their benefit, the Geordies have very little to lose at the minute, and most will still see the Champions League as little more than a massive bonus, with Europa League qualification now confirmed and the curtains almost closed on a fantastic season for Alan Pardew’s men.
We’re likely to see an open game at St James Park, with both teams playing for the victory, rather than looking to stop the other from playing, and if there aren’t goals, it will be by some miracle. Man City will be boosted by history – their last title, back in 1968 was won at St James Park, but Alan Pardew has instilled so much confidence in his team that they now fear no-one. And they can count on a brutal atmosphere inside the stadium tomorrow to help them.
Newcastle are likely to continue with Cheick Tiote in centre-midfield despite the Ivorian enforcer having to go off against Chelsea with a nasty looking head injury midweek, while news of the injury which kept Danny Simpson out of the same game is still awaited, with James Perch the most likely to fit in after an excellent performance against the Londoners.
Long-term injuries still sideline Steven Taylor, Peter Lovenkrands, Sammy Ameobi and Haris Vuckic, but both Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux will be available for consideration among the substitutes. All being well, Newcastle will simply start with the same team as which beat Chelsea on Wednesday (unless Pardew gives a fit again Danny Simpson his place back in the team).
Manchester City have a slight doubt concerning goalkeeper Joe Hart, who has otherwise played every game this season, but David Silva should be alright to play despite news of an ankle injury. The only long term absentee is Owen Hargreaves, who probably doesn’t know when or if he’ll be back himself. Other than Hart’s injury, Mancini should send out the same team which beat Manchester United on Monday, though the goalkeeper is still far from a certain absentee.
Newcastle: Krul, Perch, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Ba, Cisse
Man City: Hart, Clichy, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta, Barry, Toure, Silva, Nasri, Tevez, Aguero
Referee: Howard Webb
Odds: Newcastle 21-5 Man City 8-11 Draw 16-5
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