Manchester City vs Newcastle: 5 Key Battles to Watch in Their EPL Encounter
For Manchester City, the equation is simple: must win every game.
Even if they do manage nine victories between now and the end of the season, it's very unlikely to be enough to hang on to their Premier League title and stop Manchester United waltzing off down Stretford with the trophy.
Nevertheless, 27 points has to be the target. No doubt about it. No room for error.
On the face of it, a home game with Newcastle isn't the worse way to start that quest.
The Magpies don't really do away games this season.
They have lost their last three in a row and have only won once on the road during the current campaign.
Eight points from a possible 45 is a record that can only be beaten by Reading—and we all know where they're heading.
So, allocating the first three points of City's target of 27 should be fairly routine.
As ever, though, football has a way of cackling uncontrollably in the face of the best-laid plans and City will still need to be careful.
Here are five key areas that need attention.
Joe Hart & Co vs Papiss Cisse
Newcastle's Senegal striker can be as lethal as anyone in the world on his day.
He exploded into the Premier League in January 2012, scoring goals of breathtaking quality and skill.
He ended up with 13 from 14 games—a run that included goals in six successive matches.
That was always going to be a difficult feat to repeat this season, and sure enough, the goals have been a little less frequent and Cisse's form a little more bumpy.
That said, he remains Newcastle's go-to guy, and with three goals in his last five games, his form, if not ablaze, is at least starting to smoulder.
City's 13 clean sheets in the league this season makes criticism of their defence seem slightly harsh.
You would think chances would be at a premium for Newcastle at The Etihad Stadium, but if City's minds are not pin-sharp around Cisse, one opportunity is all he might need.
Edin Dzeko vs. Stephen Taylor & Co
When you look at the stats, it's clear to see why City have failed to muster much of a defence of their title.
They just haven't scored enough goals.
At a similar stage last season, City had scored 21 more times than they have now.
No matter how good your defence is, you need to keep putting them in at the other end.
Edin Dzeko is their leading scorer with 12 goals in the Premier League.
The Bosnian has had trouble, at times, accepting his place in the rotation policy at the club, but has made the most of his opportunities when they have come along.
He is without a goal in four games in total, although two for his country in their World Cup qualifier win over Greece on Friday will have got the juices flowing again.
Stephen Taylor, Newcastle's king pin now Fabricio Coloccini is out injured, will wonder which Dezko is going to turn up. He will hope it's the bad one.
Yaya Toure vs. Cheik Tiote
This should be good.
Manchester City's artistic fulcrum colliding with Newcastle's belligerent enforcer.
Two key tackling machines on a 50-50 collision course as the irresistible force meets the immovable object.
The two Ivorians are good mates off the field, but pleasantries will be suspended as Tiote does his best to spoil, disrupt and knock Toure off his rhythm.
That will take some doing.
Toure is the only player in the division to make more than 1,000 passes during home matches and only Arsenal's Mikel Arteta can come close matching his average of nearly 86 per game (via whoscored.com).
However, Tiote does his best away from St.James' Park where he works harder and averages more tackles.
He collects yellow cards like kids do candy, though, with six yellows and one red in the league.
If he can stay out of the referee's notebook, it should be an enthralling battle.
Gareth Barry vs. Moussa Sissoko
Along similar lines to the Toure vs Tiote matchup, who comes out on top in the scrap between City's defensive shield in midfield and Newcastle's thrusting buck will have a heavy influence on the result.
Gareth Barry patrols the vulnerable area in front of City's back four doggedly, but he has never had much pace.
He has needed the help of a defensive midfield partner, be it Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell (when fit) or even Yaya Toure.
Barry and Garcia did an effective job at retaining the ball against Everton, but question marks were raised over their urgency in closing down the space when they were not in possession.
That is not likely to be such an issue at home, where Newcastle will not see the ball much and will be content to hit on the break when they can.
If they are not disciplined, Newcastle's Moussa Sissoko has already shown what a threat he can be driving deep from midfield.
City vs Their Own Attitude
City's last outing in the Premier League was that woeful effort against Everton which all but ended their hopes of hanging onto their title.
City were simply outfought in that match as Everton clinically exposed the champions' insecurities.
It has been City's mental frailty, as well as lack of goals, that has undermined their season and left boss Roberto Mancini turning on his players at times.
Surely things in front of their own fans will be different?
Their only loss at home was to Manchester United in December 2012 and the fact that Newcastle have not won there since September 2000 should mean City erase their nightmare at Goodison immediately.
With Chelsea breathing down their necks for second spot, they can't afford any more mental negligence.