Sunday 1:30 pm. The fixture against Newcastle United is our biggest league game in as many years as one cares to remember. It became so important, just as the home fixture against QPR will, after Man City's excellent performance against Man Utd.
In that game we scored the goal we needed, then we controlled the game, we sterilized the opposition, limited them to not a single shot attempt on target in the second half. It was a domination with no little effort but not much flair.
We may need such a clinical performance yet again vs Newcastle. For when looking at the strength of their home form I realised this will not be an easy game. It will be far from easy.
Roberto Mancini wasn't lying when he said this game will be more difficult than the fixture that we triumphed in against Man Utd.
Newcastle away is a game I am far from convinced we will win, after the jump i'll try to explain why.
There remain only 2 games in Man City's at times, tumultuous, record breaking season. A season which now brushes against the ridiculous when considering teams of the caliber of Man City and now Man Utd have thrown away 8 points leads at various parts of the season.
These 2 games won't be easy. Yet we have to see these games as winnable.
Up now I shall explain just why Newcastle away won't be an easy game.
Newcastle Home Form 2011/12
W 11 D 5 L 2 2.11 ppg
This is the 5th ranked home record with 38 points from 18 games. Only Chelsea and a wild game when WBA came to visit have ended in defeat on Newcastle's home soil.
Arsenal 0-0, Spurs 2-2, Man Utd 3-0, Liverpool 2-0, Everton 2-1 are just some of the slain opponents who may have an argument at one time or another during the season to say they are a better team than Newcastle. All of them failed.
Chelsea and WBA showed us that Newcastle can be defeated. Sunderland, Wolves and Swansea gained a point at the ground I shall always refer to as St James Park.
Newcastle also have had the easiest QualComp rating of 8.73.
Goals for 29 Goals against 15
Goals for per game 1.61
Goals against per game 0.83
+/- + 0.78
Newcastle are 7th in goals for at home and are ranked joint 4th in goals conceded at home.
Newcastle have been kept scoreless 3 times and have blanked the opposition 9 times at home. This is what is making them such a tough opposition to beat at home. They just don't concede at St James Park.
Shots On Target For
72 shots in 18 games for 4.00 shots per game
(League home average 5.25)
A low average shots on goal per game here when considering they are the 8th highest scoring team at home in the EPL.
Shots On Target Against
68 shots in 18 games for 3.77 shots against per game.
Newcastle's shot differential is + 0.23
This is a very low shot differential for a team in 5th place in the EPL. In fact this is a low differential for any EPL team let alone one that sits poised for CL contention.
Home form is vitally important in a teams overall standing in the EPL table. We know that unless your team is called Stoke shots differential is a big indicator on form too.
EPL Top 6 Shot Differential
Man City 7.33 3.05 +4.28
Man Utd 8.16 4.00 +4.16
Arsenal 6.05 2.72 +3.33
Spurs 6.27 2.72 +3.55
Newcastle 4.00 3.77 +0.23
Chelsea 7.05 4.22 2.83
As we can see Newcastle just don't fit in with such company. The shots for number tells us that they are a relatively defensive side at home and this may account for their total of 38 points.
I think they are conceding too many shots on target at home to have a total of 9 clean sheets and the League's joint 4th defensive record without talking of bending the numbers and a portion of luck.
The tiny differential of +0.23 just seems completely out of line and far too low when talking of the 5th best home record. It just doesn't fit.
72 shots 29 goals 0.45 scoring %
League average home scoring % 0.315
So Newcastle are not only riding above the league average scoring %, they have the League's highest at 0.45%.
They are above quality sides such as Man City (0.39) and Man Utd (0.34) in this category. It's easy to say that Newcastle are doing more with the fewer shots they have. But it's probably not sustainable and this is where Newcastle's unsustainable strikers come in.
Demba Ba 16 goals 41 shots 0.39 %
Considering how long Ba's goal drought has coincided ( I think he may have scored just 1 goal) with Cisse's January arrival we can only shudder to think what what his %'s looked like from August to December. His ridiculous scoring % and goals total were unsustainable and so it has proved. But it was those unsustainable numbers that drove Newcastle's impressive form
Cisse 13 goals 20 shots 0.65 %
(EPL top 20 strikers' average scoring % is 0.406)
These are just out of this world numbers. Unsustainable, but I really enjoy watching him play. He has an above average shot, good movement, but he'll never be this good again.
I'd put all the money I own and all my friends money on a bet that he won't touch 0.65% again in his career. His career scoring % is 0.45 which, although high, has to be viewed against playing in Ligue 1 and 2 in France and a year and a half in the Bundesliga.
He is a very good striker, and he has settled remarkably well. I just don't see him being on pace for 41 goals a season in a 38 game EPL campaign.
I read a comment on the Guardians website and that comment suggested that they sell him. That user was lambasted but there may be a truth in is statement. It's called selling high on the back of unsustainable performance.
Newcastle's great form in this years EPL has been powered by two unsustainable goal scoring performances, Ba pre January and Cisse post January. Good players that they are, it is unlikely they repeat those performances next year.
Newcastle Home Form In Last 5 Games
W 4 D 1 L 0 gf 9 ga 1
Ranked number 1 in the league in last 5 games.
Newcastle 1-1 Sunderland
Newcastle 1-0 Norwich
Newcastle 2-0 Liverpool
Newcastle 2-0 Bolton
Newcastle 3-0 Stoke
It's an impressive last 5 games although the quality of opposition isn't what we would class as top end.
What Does It All Mean?
Newcastle's home form is great and demands great respect. 9 clean sheets points to a team difficult to score against, they have a red hot striker and St James' Park is always a tough place to get a result.
This is the challenge for Man City. We have an individually experienced side, full of big game players and world class individuals. We have the second best away form in the League this year, we have scored 36 goals and only conceded 17. We are running at 5.44 spg and 4.00 spga away from home.
I believe this is an excellent Man City side who If we are going to think of ourselves as the best team in England, not just now but in the future, not just hope to win away at Newcastle on Sunday, but will be expected to do so.
This is the new reality of champions elect, and this is where the title run in pressure that Mancini has fought so hard to shield the players from in the last 3 games will cloud around an individual, and a team like it has at no other time this season.
Winning away at Newcastle won't be easy, but it's necessary and I think ultimately, very attainable. There are men of high caliber in this Man City squad. Men with experience of world cup finals, European Cup finals, of FA cup Finals and of FA Cup semi finals where, arguably the pressure was harder and more intense. These are the experienced players I hope we will have enough skill and composure to win away at Newcastle just as the Man City title winning side of 1968 did to clinch the title.
Our away from this season is good for 2nd in the League, we have blown teams away at times, yet I don't feel that confident going into Sundays game .The one question that remains?
Was our poor mid season away form just a dip, a temporary blip? Our home form has been beyond question. It is our away form that has brought about the self doubt, it was the reason for Man Utd making up the original 8 point deficit and on Sunday we need to banish any lingering doubts, and there are still many, and win at Newcastle. This is for the EPL title in effect. Win on Sunday and the coronation at The Etihad awaits.
Man City's superior game winners and an absolute driven hunger to win this game should secure the 3 points against what is frankly, a strange Newcastle team. It's a team far more than the sum of it's parts, a team riding an element of luck in it's scoring and defensive numbers. A team also that despite 36 games having elapsed are due a regression to the mean at some point in regard to their excellent form against their underlying numbers, which would point to a slightly upper mid-table team.
prediction 0-2 to Man City. Odds 15/2