Robin Sainty: Can Newcastle be the starting point for City’s survival run-in?
- Credit: PA
There have been relatively few opportunities to savour City’s results this season, but last Saturday was a notable exception as the Canaries produced a high-class display to beat a Burnley side who never looked like winning the game.
Despite a number of changes, City clicked from the start and produced some good attacking football, but also some obdurate defence when it was needed, and the ease with which they denied the hosts a single chance in the last 20 minutes or so after Erik Pieters had given them a lifeline was the sort of game management that has been all too rare this season.
Having been bludgeoned by Sean Dyche's antediluvian approach to football in the league game at Turf Moor, Daniel Farke will have been pleased to see his side knocking the ball around with confidence while Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley, who has been outstanding since his return from injury, snuffed out the predictable aerial barrage.
Farke will also have been impressed by the contribution of Mario Vrancic who had a hand in both goals. Vrancic was one of many City players who had struggled at Old Trafford before his injury, but his calmness on the ball and ability to pick the right pass makes him both an attractive player to watch and also a creative source in an area of the pitch where City have often been found wanting this season.
Whilst the spotlight for City's poor defensive record has regularly been shone on the back four, the two deeper lying midfield positions haven't always helped the situation, with Tom Trybull struggling to get to grips with the speed with which sides in the Premier League attack and Ibrahim Amadou, of whom I expected a lot, apparently not being trusted by Farke in the position for which he was signed.
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As a result, Alex Tettey, a player for whom I have huge respect but who most of us expected to be predominantly a back-up this season, has been a regular starter, and whilst he has produced his usual sterling defensive work his lack of comfort in possession in a side for whom control of the ball is key has often been a cause for concern.
In an ideal world I think that Vrancic alongside someone with a better combination of pace, strength and passing ability (exactly what I'd hoped Amadou would provide) would have made City so much more effective both going forwards and defensively this season.
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This is also a worry for the future with Tettey ageing and out of contract in the summer and while there is clearly forward planning going on with Melvin Sitti joining Charlie Gilmour as development options in that area it is questionable whether either would be ready to fill the gap next season.
One player who has had an immediate impact is Lukas Rupp. As I mentioned last week, I don't think any of us knew much about him when he signed, and his statistics weren't overly impressive, but he has impressed in his first two starts as a very intelligent footballer with an excellent work rate. He is also a different type of midfielder to Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell and will clearly have a significant part to play in the future.
All in all last weekend will have given Farke and his players a much-needed boost, although yet another tough away draw in the fifth round summed up the sort of luck that City have had throughout this season.
However, that can wait because this afternoon represents another crucial game in City's relegation battle. City comprehensively outplayed Newcastle at Carrow Road back in August and this will be a game that they will feel that they can win.
With six points separating City from 17th place and only 12 games left they must put a run together and St James Park would be the perfect place to start.