On Saturday the unlikely irresistible force meets the implausible immovable object. Unbeaten Newcastle United, their march towards the Champions League places underpinned by a watertight defence which has leaked just eight goals in eleven Premier League games, travel to the Etihad Stadium to face runaway leaders Manchester City.
The assurance with which Coloccini and Taylor have manned the defence, backed up by a confident, lithe young rearguard in Tim Krul, has confounded the anarchic, chaotic stereotype associated with a Newcastle United backline. However, the most interesting battle potentially lies in the centre of the park. Yohann Cabaye and Cheik Tiote act as inconvenient reminders that detested owner Mike Ashley is capable of conducting shrewd business. Signed at cut-price fees on a fraction of the money earned by the revered Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, the duo have emerged as one of the best partnerships in English football. Melding brute physicality and sheer power in the defensive third with refinement in support of the attack, they have been the match for all opponents thus far.
Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong are sure to relish the trench warfare in midfield. However, the most intriguing aspect of the battle lies with David Silva. So far, the elegant Spaniard has been untouchable. In spite of all opposition attempts, the graceful playmaker miraculously seems to find the required time and space to pick out sumptuous passes. When space is restricted, those dancing feet manoeuvre the ball dextrously, opening up opposition defences with all the ease of opening a can of beans. To eulogise, at this moment in time, Silva is the prototype attacking player, unparalleled in English football.
The dilemma facing Alan Pardew is therefore the level of emphasis placed on stopping the former Valencia man. This City vintage are no longer an expensive collection of individuals. Often staid and predictable, victories were hard fought, and defeats stodgy and unexpected. Today there is a fluidity about City; an appreciation of where teammates are moving, and an awareness of exactly when and where to pass the ball. Spaces are exploited ruthlessly. And herein lies the problem: even when marked, the movement of City’s forwards – Silva in particular – is as intelligent as it is unselfish. Chances are inevitably created and invariably exploited.
As such, it is tough to envisage the Geordies surviving unscathed. Durable and committed though they are, there is a sense that their wonderful start is based on a work-ethic and desire which masks a lack of refinement. Whilst they have the potential to test City – so too, we remember, did QPR in the league leaders’ pulsating most recent fixture – Mancini’s men simply ooze goals. A tough encounter lies in store – but expect the blue half of Manchester to be celebrating come Saturday evening.
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