Manchester City vs. Newcastle United: Premier League Preview
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Time: 3pm GMT, Saturday
After a fortnight given over to international fixtures, the Premier League returns this weekend. Although we're only in March this game is, disappointingly, something of a dead rubber already. The title race is all but over for Manchester City, whose tenuous challenge for top spot suffered a decisive blow in the 2-0 defeat to Everton last time out. Meanwhile, Newcastle are still six points clear of the relegation zone in 13th and need just a few more to nudge them to safety.
They're unlikely to pick up much this Saturday, however, as Man City remain imperious at the Etihad. Despite recent slip-ups on their travels Roberto Mancini's side have lost just once at home in the league and will look to shore up second spot as Chelsea and Tottenham close in. The impending return of Sergio Aguero should prove a timely boost too. The Argentine forward's recovery from knee trouble continues apace and he could be on the bench.
Captain Vincent Kompany and the driving force in midfield Yaya Toure should also return for the visit of Newcastle, who have significant injury concerns of their own. Although the damage was not as bad as first feared, Massadio Haidara will miss out after Callum McManaman's crunching challenge saw him stretchered off in the 2-1 loss to Wigan. Fabricio Coloccini, Tim Krul, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye are long term absentees. Rob Elliot is set to deputise in goal once more.
For both sides the focus is likely to be elsewhere, cup success offering a welcome distraction from relative league struggles. Man City trounced Barnsley 5-0 to book a trip to Wembley, where they are set to meet either Man United or Chelsea in an FA Cup semifinal. Winning the trophy for the second time in three years looks to be the only way to rescue a disappointing season. Likewise Newcastle, who finished fifth last year, have found some comfort in their Europa League exploits.
After six years away it's been an enjoyable return to European competition for the Magpies. A quarter final against Champions League regulars Benfica is the reward for seeing off Anzhi Makhachkala in extra time, and they travel to Estadio da Luz for next Thursday's first leg. It promises to be a difficult balancing act for Alan Pardew. Should he prioritise Premier League survival or a rare chance at glory?
The starting XI he selects for the upcoming game is bound to give an indication. Despite much squad strengthening in January Newcastle are still short of options to change things around while staying competitive, especially against such tough opposition. City, on the other hand, have resources at their disposal and could be in for a major reshuffle. Either way the home will expect to emerge victorious.
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