ST JAMES' PARK—NEWCASTLE
In his pre-match programme notes, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said Manchester City were “justifiably” favourites to win the Premier League. After another determined win—their sixth straight Premier League victory—it's becoming clear that only a monumental effort from their closest rivals is going to stop them from being crowned champions in May.
City's season has been defined by their wonderful attacking football, but after this 2-0 win away at Newcastle, it’s time they were praised for the ability to grind out victories when not at their best. It's a win which sends them top of the table for a day at least, and it is a performance which demonstrates their fighting qualities.
However, City's afternoon was soured by an injury to Samir Nasri. He was fouled by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and appeared to jar his knee after buckling under the third illegal swipe of the French defender's boot. The extent of the injury is unknown, but he looked in considerable pain, writhing around on the St James' turf, smacking the ground in anger. Unbelievably, Yanga-Mbiwa escaped with just a yellow card.
It's a huge blow to City. Nasri has been in outstanding form this season, with his creativity central to their best moments going forward. They will be hoping he can recover quickly, but it certainly didn't look good.
In his post-match press conference, Pellegrini told reporters:
There should have been a red card for the foul, Nasri has a serious injury in the knee.
I can't understand how he wasn't sent off. We didn't have any help of the ref today. It was a very tough game with a lot of pushing and grabbing.
The injury to Nasri aside, this was a great afternoon for the Blues.
After Wednesday’s 6-0 win over West Ham in the Capital One Cup, which was arguably their most complete performance of the season, City showed that they can also fight for three points in the face of adversity. Newcastle, buoyed by a vociferous crowd who felt aggrieved at Cheick Tiote's 34th minute strike being ruled out for offside, showed real quality, and they attacked City for large periods of the game.
But just like they did in recent matches against Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Swansea, Pellegrini's men managed to secure three points in difficult circumstances.
The defensive triumvirate of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis were outstanding and deserve a lot of credit for the result. Hart made a series of excellent saves, and he looks to have benefited from his recent exile from the first-team.
Demichelis is a player who has faced criticism since his move from Atletico Madrid for his lack of pace, but he his improving all the time. When you read the game like he does, pace is less of a necessity, and his aerial dominance and general intelligence kept Newcastle at bay all afternoon.
The imperious pair of Kompany and Demichelis made an incredible 25 clearances between them today. 13 by Kompany, 12 by Demichelis.— City Watch (@City_Watch) January 12, 2014
And it was Kompany who impressed the most, giving one of his most dominant displays of the season. He was strong in the air and won countless challenges, as Newcastle struggled to turn possession into clear chances.
The goals were scored by City's in-form strike pairing. Edin Dzeko grabbed the first with a fabulous first-time strike after a cross from the ever-improving Aleksandar Kolarov, and Alvaro Negredo wrapped it up later on with his 19th goal in his short City career.
Although Newcastle will no doubt be upset that Tiote's effort was ruled out, they were guilty of some rough tackles that could have been punished more harshly. Yanga-Mbiwa's foul on Nasri was one of many throughout the game, and Yohan Cabaye, Newcastle's outstanding central midfielder, could well have seen red for a series of mistimed tackles.
City have now scored more goals than they managed in the whole of last season, with 94 in all competitions after just 32 games. They're still in contention for four trophies and are winning in ugly circumstances.
In this kind of form, the title is City's to lose.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.