Ask The Opposition - Newcastle United vs Man City (w/ NUFC360)
Liverpool were confirmed as Premier League champions following Manchester City's 2-1 loss against Chelsea, and if it wasn't already, attention now firmly turns to other avenues offering silverware for the remainder of the campaign.
The Carabao Cup has already been successfully defended and with the Champions League not returning till August, the FA Cup is now the Blues' primary focus. After a resounding victory in last season’s final, Manchester City are just two matches away from potentially repeating that scenario.
If Pep Guardiola is to seal his ninth piece of domestic silverware in England, then he still has three FA Cup fixtures to negotiate - the first of which being a potentially difficult trip to Tyneside for a quarter-final tie against Newcastle. Steve Bruce’s side are vastly improved and are a team that Manchester City have surprisingly failed to win against in their last two attempts.
Ahead of what will be Newcastle’s first appearance since 2006 in the last eight of the most famous English cup competition, we spoke to NUFC360’s Davie O’Neill about both the upcoming tie, and some of the other hot topics surrounding the Magpies at the moment.
Thanks for joining us ahead of Sunday, Davie. Obviously in recent weeks, there has been plenty of talk about THAT takeover. What are your thoughts on the ordeal and in a few words, what is the expectation amongst fans should that deal go through?
There certainly has been plenty of talk and it's been months rather than weeks now. It's all becoming very tedious and the initial excitement is turning into apathy. I can understand the reservations and also appreciate that the appropriate questions need to be asked, however, I don't see how it can take so long. It seems like the Premier League have been waiting for a reason to reject the bid but no concrete evidence has come forward. I still expect it to go through sooner or later but it's been an arduous ordeal to put it mildly.
In terms of expectations, we aren't expecting to be at Manchester City's level any time soon. It would just be nice to have owners in place that have loftier ambitions than survival and a healthy balance sheet. Our club has been in the doldrums for far too long and when you have a disinterested owner the knock on effects are incredibly damaging throughout from top to bottom. Simply having owners who want to compete, provide players and academy prospects with the appropriate conditions to succeed and engage with fans in a meaningful way would be amazing.
We don't expect Champions League football or trophies, but being able to entertain the prospect of that one day being a possibility is something we have missed for far too long.
Manchester City fans are more than aware of the negative press that comes with significant investment from further afield. What have you and other Newcastle fans made of the media/press coverage of the proposed deal?
There are so many vested interests in play from those within the media, it's hard to weed out the genuine news amongst the agenda-driven drivel being publicised. Saudi Arabia clearly comes with some serious, heavy baggage. Any journalist worth their salt will rightly be highlighting this to fans and they should be. We can't just put our fingers in our ears and pretend that this is a takeover that isn't going to rub people up the wrong way.
What would be great, however, is if journalists could simply present us with the facts and leave fans to come to their own conclusions. Everything seems to be an opinion piece and journalists are now becoming parodies of themselves. Some of the most outspoken journalists seem to thrive on the division and outrage they're causing within a clearly tetchy fan group. For me, a journalists job is to inform and educate, not lecture and accuse - modern day journos have a holier than thou attitude and seem to crave celebrity status. If it goes through, it's clear that we're going to sit right beside City as public enemy number one within the media.
You may remember that City fans saw Mark Hughes swiftly pushed out of the club following our takeover in 2008. Do you feel Steve Bruce deserves a chance to work with the club should the takeover come to fruition?
Steve Bruce has done a solid enough job this season, however, it's been far from convincing. We've had a string of fortuitous results, outstanding individual displays and large slices of luck have mainly contributed to our current points tally. In fairness to him, the recent move away from a back five has led to a better brand of football and some positive results, but it's still often painful viewing.
Bruce is a media darling and has many friends in high places, there will be a huge push for him to remain in charge if the takeover goes through. If we end the season strongly, some fans could be swayed - it's a fickle game.
Taking a longer term view, Bruce doesn't have the vision or credentials to facilitate the level of change needed for us to start competing. He's a nice enough bloke, but I think he would very much go the way of Mark Hughes if he was given a war-chest and tasked with leading a revolution.
Given the potential for investment, John Stones is a player that is slowly falling further out of favour at the Etihad Stadium, and recent reports have linked the Englishman with a move further North. Do you feel Stones would be a good signing for the Magpies?
We have our best selection of centre-backs in recent memory and, factoring in the fee needed to prize him away from City, I think Stones would be a poor investment. Stones is a footballer first and a defender second - we don't play a style of football that would allow him to thrive and don't have enough of the ball for him to influence games.
Defensively, we're rugged and robust, which has worked for us. Stones gets thrown about like an empty tracksuit far too much and with questions over his attitude, application and injuries, I think he'll likely end up at Everton or abroad. If the takeover goes ahead and we begin heading in a new direction, under new management, then Stones could be a good buy - at present I can't see it.
Looking ahead to the game itself, it’s the first time Newcastle have progressed to this stage of the FA Cup since 2006 - what does this game mean to fans and how big of an occasion and opportunity is this for the football club?
I think the game being behind closed doors will suit Manchester City. St James Park would have been a cauldron on Sunday - it would have been the noisiest and most hostile atmosphere in years. There's something about late kick-offs that's always special. I'm sure our fan base being on the booze all day may contribute!
The FA Cup run has been fun more than anything. We're under no illusions, we've had a ridiculously favourable draw up to this point and we've stumbled over every hurdle in front of us but, by hook or crook, we're here. Manchester City is a mammoth task at the best of times, but to win any trophy you need to beat the top sides at one stage or the other. It's a huge opportunity, our first FA Cup quarter-final in 14 years. I do feel that the build-up has been fairly subdued due to Covid-19, and the game isn't as eagerly anticipated as it would be under normal circumstances.
With that said, it's a welcome distraction from the current plight of the world/country and if we can get into the semi-finals, every Newcastle fan will be absolutely over the moon. We approach the game with a free swing - no one's expecting us to pick up a result. We performed well in the 2-2 draw earlier this season, so if we stay in the game till the latter stages then who knows what can happen.
Having successfully frustrated Manchester City in the past two meetings between the sides, where do you see the key one-on-one battles taking place on the pitch on Sunday evening?
That's a difficult question when you're facing a side as strong as Manchester City's. The key battles for us will be Allan Saint-Maximin and Almiron against whoever's tasked with marking them. The pair carry all of our attacking potential and allow us to counter-attack effectively. They have pace to burn and can cause issues for any side on their day. I also think Andy Carroll could have a big part to play. He's unplayable with the right service and, in a game like Sunday's where we'll have little of the ball, our threat from set pieces will be key in determining whether we stand a chance of progressing.
Finally, Newcastle’s predicted starting XI and score prediction?
I think we will make a few changes for the game. We were the walking wounded at the end of the Aston Villa match and doubts remain over Hayden, Ritchie and others. I think we may see starts for Lazaro, Bentaleb and Fabian Schar. My predicted starting XI would be: Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Schar, Rose, Bentaleb, Shelvey, Lazaro, Almiron, St Maximin, Carroll.
My head says we'll lose comfortably, but my heart thinks we can cause an upset. I'll go for a 1-1 draw, with Newcastle winning on penalties.
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