Pablo Zabaleta challenges Jonas Gutierrez (Getty Images)
As Newcastle United come to Eastlands on Sunday, Manchester City are rounding their way into top league form. They soundly beat Wigan Athletic away, and followed that up with a victory over leaders and title favorites Chelsea. The win over Chelsea was almost surgical in its effectiveness. Roberto Mancini got his players to execute the game plan to near perfection - defend well and strike on the counterattack. We saw heroic performances from Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany, and then David Silva and Carlos Tevez combined to strike on the break. It was a clear reminder of what it will take for the Blues to be successful this year.
Despite being a promotion side, Newcastle are a mid-table team and will probably challenge for the Europa League for much of the year. In addition to dangerous striker Andy Carroll, they recently added Hatem Ben Arfa on loan from Marseille. For an idea of what he's capable of, check out this wonder goal against Everton:
Hopefully we can get through the match without Joey Barton snapping anyone's ankles. Here's how the Toon lined up in their loss to Stoke City:
While at this point I'm wary of questioning Mancini's decisions, the call to start Carlos Tevez and play David Silva against Juventus was somewhat puzzling considering the upcoming match against the Magpies. Tevez and Silva have been at the heart of everything good created offensively, and that probably won't change tomorrow. I would, however, issue a call to James Milner to provide more in the attacking half. He tracks back better than Stephen Ireland ever did, and leads the Premier League in crosses, but I'd like to see more of a willingness to get into the penalty area and cause problems.
As soon as Jerome Boateng made his debut against Chelsea and played the full 90 against Juve, we received word that yet another defender is out with injury. This time, its Pablo Zabaleta, who had been one of the lone bright spots in the way of attacking fullbacks. That's what Boateng provides, but can he handle the rigors of 90 Premier League minutes right now? We may find out.
Anyway, here's how I'd like City to start tomorrow's game:
This looks to be an interesting match, and Newcastle can certainly be dangerous. They've beaten Aston Villa 6-0, and defeated Chelsea in the Carling Cup 4-3. That said, Manchester City are a side on a mission and the Magpies will in no way be able to defend Mancini's counterattacks. Manchester City 3, Newcastle United 1.