Venue: St. James’ Park
Date: 27 December 2017
Referee: Andre Marriner
Kick off: 19:45
Christmas is over for another year and football returns after the shortest of breaks in a hectic period for the English game. Manchester City were the Christmas number one, not only topping the Premier League charts, but doing so in style.
The 13-point gap between City and United was the biggest between first and second place on Christmas Day in the history of English top-flight football. More and more records continue to fall, devoured by this special side dubbed the ‘Shark Team’.
Next to try and stop the runaway train are Newcastle United, Rafa Benitez’s struggling side who have lost their last four fixtures at St. James’ Park. City have been imperious on the road this season, winning all nine away games in the league. Given the hostile reception they often receive from crowds desperate to see their heroes topple the league leaders, it’s an incredibly impressive achievement.
Can Newcastle stop City? The form book says no, but anything can happen and Pep Guardiola certainly won’t be allowing complacency to creep in having seen his team work so hard to build a record-breaking lead at the top.
City were boosted by the returns of Vincent Kompany and David Silva against Bournemouth, the two veterans both starting in the weekend win over Eddie Howe’s men. John Stones is very close to a return, although perhaps tomorrow’s game will be a little too early for him to start. A place on the bench can’t be completely ruled out, with the 23-year-old having returned to training. Otherwise, only long-term absentee Benjamin Mendy and teen sensation Phil Foden, who is expected to miss around a month, are missing for the Blues.
For the hosts, Jesús Gámez is out having had an operation on his ankle, while Benitez ruled Alexander Mitrović out for ‘ten days’ on December 22, so we can assume he’ll be absent. Florian Lejeune, once owned by City, is also a doubt.
Newcastle’s season started poorly with back-to-back defeats, but wins over West Ham, Swansea and Stoke followed, giving Geordies hope of a good campaign after returning to the top-flight. Things have since gone pear-shaped though, with eight losses in their last ten games and just the single win.
That win came in their most recent game, a 3-2 win away at West Ham, and fans will hope it marks a turning point for the club, who are only a couple of points clear of the drop zone. It would be quite a feat were Newcastle to win this game, not only because of the quality of opposition they are facing, but because they have not won a home game against the Blues since 2005 – that’s some pretty average City teams that the Magpies have failed to beat!
Perhaps the most impressive player in this Newcastle team has been Mikel Merino, and the holding midfielder will have to put in one of his best performances to keep out the multi-talented City attack. The 21-year-old joined permanently in the summer from Borussia Dortmund, having failed to make an impact in Germany following his move from Osasuna.
Football is a funny old game and one of these days, City are probably going to slip up. You can bet St. James’ Park will be well up for this, but I just don’t see them having the required quality to keep out Pep’s Shark Team. I’m predicting a 3-1 win to the Blues and am backing Gabriel Jesus to end his eight-match goal drought and get at least one of those.