MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Samir Nasri of Manchester City competes with Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at the City of Manchester Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
A comfortable game all around. Newcastle came into the match as the only other unbeaten side in the Premier League, and this coupled with the memory of last year's tricky affair in this fixture meant that City could not afford to be complacent coming off the international break. Mancini decided to rest Silva which came as a surprise but James Milner continued his string of solid games and Samir Nasri also had one of his better matches to continue to allow City a smooth, flowing attack without the diminutive Spaniard in the lineup. Nigel de Jong also made a return to the starting XI and as with the rest of the squad, he seemed to fit in seamlessly from the start. Overall the side has not seemed to be affected by international breaks or Champions League matches midweek, which is something that tends to set apart champions from the rest of the top teams.
As Danny had mentioned once in a previous post, sometimes all a team needs is that one moment to open the floodgates and start the scoring, and such was the case today. City bossed much of the first half but couldn't produce a goal, though credit must be given to Newcastle keeper Tim Krul for a few fantastic stops along the way. Balotelli's opening goal eventually came via the penalty spot, but it came as a result of a well worked move around the box and let Newcastle's guard down a bit; in particular Ryan Taylor who gave away the penalty and subsequently was guilty of some dodgy defending to allow Richards to pounce on a loose ball to poke home the second goal a few minutes later. From there on it was smooth sailing as City were not only leading the scoreline but also gained all the momentum going into halftime, strengthening the attacking swagger we have seen from the side this season.
Newcastle's counter-attacking approach to the match was one City have seen many times against them this season. City have fared well defensively so far in the league giving up only 11 goals, but against some of the stronger teams who employ the counter-attack, City have given up the odd goal which is a bit concerning. Dan Gosling scored late in the match which did not affect the match in any way but was certainly an annoyance that Mancini will not be pleased about. Giving up late goals to scratch out a clean sheet has become a bit of a bad habit this season and perhaps Mancini can fix this simply by using a substitution on a defender a bit more often to keep fresh legs and concentration on the pitch.
City's 3 marksmen up front have all undoubtedly played well this season, but the Balotelli/Aguero partnership in particular has been very efficient. Including today, City have now won 0-4, 1-6, and 3-1 against Blackburn, United, and Newcastle respectfully when the Italian and the Argentine start the game together. Balotelli in particular has taken his game to another level this season and they both create marking issues for defenders by running all through the defense from side to side, not just up and down the pitch. They also seem to feed off each other well with a good understanding for each other (stemming from the dressing room and training, evidenced from videos on the team website) and perhaps this is something Mancini can look into more in the future.
Up next is one of City's most important fixtures in their history, an away match at Napoli in an encounter that may well decide who advances to the knockout stages of the tournament. With Silva rested and Toure, Aguero, and Balotelli being substituted out in today's match, Mancini should have his full locker of players at his disposal in his team selection in Naples. Napoli have drawn and lost at home to sides with lesser quality than City, so it is a job that can certainly be done so long as Mancini gets his tactics right. Napoli played a heavy counter-attacking style in the first match in Manchester, but as they need the points over City they are likely to come out more attacking. At that point the question lies with Mancini; will he employ a defense-first approach to ensure at least a draw or go all out to get 3 points and guarantee qualification?