City in no mood to surrender their title
Newcastle United 1 Manchester City 3Trust was very much a theme on a day when Manchester City issued a reminder that they are not about to surrender their title lightly and a fabulously defiant Newcastle United refused to wave any white flags.
One of the most enjoyable things about watching football is seeing a player who has previously struggled suddenly start shining. On Saturday Vurnon Anita proved a case in point, the former Ajax midfielder thoroughly repaying Alan Pardew’s enduring belief as he challenged City’s Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta for man-of-the-match honours.
After threatening to be overwhelmed by the English game’s pace and power following his summer-time arrival from the Netherlands, the diminutive Anita has learnt how to not only hold his own but make his technical excellence count. “Vurnon’s not getting any taller, he’s still 4ft 3in,” said Pardew. “But he’s growing into the shirt.”
The Newcastle manager’s problem was that while Roberto Mancini had, for the moment at least, lost faith in the dropped Mario Balotelli, City’s manager instead placed his trust in Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. It proved more than justified.
On the past 13 occasions that Mancini has started the two Argentina strikers, City have won. Unable to resist their joint menace, Newcastle never fathomed out the duo’s devastating, incisive movement.
Davide Santon has been outstanding this season but Pardew’s left back will now fully understand why Mancini was prepared to forgive Tevez for his “sabbatical” in Buenos Aires last winter. By half-time City were two up with Santon at fault for both goals and Tevez unlucky not to have scored a couple of his own.
“Tevez is important because he has experience,” said Mancini. “He’s strong and he’s a fighter. He and Aguero played very well together.”
They were helped by stellar first-half promptings from Samir Nasri. Perhaps stung by managerial criticism, Nasri delighted in dismantling a Newcastle defence naively preoccupied with watching the ball rather than opponents’ runs. Bamboozling Santon, he created Aguero’s opener.
When the Italian failed to clear Javi Garcia’s header off the line, Newcastle looked destined for hefty defeat but, creditably, they rallied to the point where a draw was within touching distance. Indeed Mancini became so anxious he switched from 4-4-2 to a back five.
If Nasri’s withdrawal with a groin injury helped the Newcastle cause, the slick-passing Anita and sharp-tackling Cheik Tiote began taking charge of midfield for prolonged periods. Early in the second period Demba Ba reduced the deficit and, if Papiss Cisse had not missed a straightforward chance before Yaya Toure claimed City’s third, the outcome might have been very different.
“In the first half we could have been winning by four or five, yet in the second half we found it much tougher,” said Garcia. “But we played very well. If we can maintain these standards we’re going to be very difficult to stop; very hard to beat. I think we can chase down Manchester United; although it’s too soon to say it’s just the two of us. Chelsea are not far away.”
Garcia believes City’s Champions League elimination could prove a disguised blessing. “Maybe it will help,” he said. “We have more time to work on Premier League games, it gives the players more tranquillity.”
Newcastle’s qualification for the Europa League’s knock-out phase has provoked stress. They have won only one of their last 11 games and suffered five defeats in the past six.
“It’s important that you tell the truth as a manager,” said Pardew. “If I thought my team was dysfunctional I’d be honest and say so but there’s not a lot wrong with us. We’re not far away.”
The bad news is that he will be without the hamstrung Hatem Ben Arfa, his most creative individual, for another three weeks and Harry Redknapp’s QPR are in Newcastle on Saturday. While Pardew’s faith in his team remains undimmed, Mancini’s loss of trust in Balotelli – left behind to train alone in Manchester – promises to be strictly temporary.
“I have to talk about Mario every day and I’m not frustrated by that,” said City’s manager. “But I am frustrated because Mario has great technical quality and is a huge talent. Mario still has a big part to play this season.”
He quite possibly does – although City fans might prefer it if Mancini concentrated his energies on investing increased belief in Tevez.