For Roger Johnson, it must have felt like a slowly unfolding nightmare.
The centre-back on loan at West Ham from Wolverhampton Wanderers had been pitched in for his Hammers debut inside the lion’s den, trying to mark a beast that had clearly decided that the penalty area was going to be his territory.
A week earlier, on New Year’s Day at Hillsborough, Johnson played the last of his 17 games on loan at Sheffield Wednesday. Blackpool’s Ricardo Fuller was his direct opponent, with the Tangerines bringing on both Michael Chopra and Nathan Delfouneso in the pursuit of a way back into the match once they fell behind. This was quite literally a different league.
Pitched into a Capital One Cup semi-final first leg at the home of the undisputed goalscoring masters this season, Johnson was always likely to be on a hiding to nothing. Alvaro Negredo quickly removed any semblance of doubt.
Striding in and around the penalty area as if he owned it, Negredo was simply superb as he bagged a hat-trick in City’s 6-0 win which has secured a place in the Wembley final bar the kind of second leg East London storyline that would be considered too unrealistic for EastEnders.
Johnson was left dizzy as Negredo’s by now trademark runs beyond the last defender stretched the match and ensured that all the traffic was going one way.
Linking up well with Edin Dzeko―something that hasn't always been the case during the pair’s three matches upfront together in 2014―the Spaniard was terrific, and displayed the kind of all-action forward’s performance that we’d often seen during his time at Sevilla.
Dzeko, too, seemed to benefit from this, with the pair’s understanding and movement creating endless problems for Johnson and his team-mates, and one big one for Manuel Pellegrini―on the face of it at least.
Because what does the Chilean do when Sergio Aguero returns to full fitness, something that may happen as early as the home match against Cardiff City next Saturday?
Even without forgotten man Stevan Jovetic, the City attack has coped well in the absence of their Argentinean star and that is chiefly down to the form of Negredo, who has now scored 14 goals in his last 10 Etihad Stadium starts.
It is because of numbers like that that Pellegrini has the luxury of ensuring that Aguero is finally fully fit and 100 percent ready to return before he brings him back into the fold. In a statement that is almost the complete opposite of Negredo’s bullish playing style, it can be a case of more haste, and less speed.
There has been no adverse effect on the form of City’s No. 9 whilst he’s been without his frequent partner too, and indeed―as is the case with Luis Suarez at Liverpool following the injury to Daniel Sturridge―you could have a pretty strong argument to say that Negredo has actually improved whilst Aguero has been unavailable.
With Diego Costa still uncapped and Fernando Torres and Roberto Soldado often unimpressive, Negredo’s claim to be Spain’s centre-forward at the World Cup in the summer has to be considered as the most persuasive one on current form, and that claim only gets louder with every goal he scores.
Of course Aguero will return both to fitness and to the Manchester City starting line-up in due course, but Negredo’s displays alongside the less mobile Dzeko have proven that fans shouldn't be crossing off the days on their calendars until he does.
They are fine as they are, with their "Beast" patrolling the penalty areas and feasting on the chances created for him by the likes of David Silva, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri and indeed the admirable Dzeko.
With that level of backup, plenty of defenders are likely to join Johnson in the dazed and confused club after an encounter with the City forward, and there’s little doubt that Negredo will be dominating the nightmares of Newcastle’s defenders ahead of his meeting with them this Sunday.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!