Tuesday's fixture with FC Barcelona is without doubt the more glamorous of Manchester City's next two games. However, there's certainly a strong argument that today's game against Newcastle United is of equal, if not greater importance. City are currently seven points off the pace and incredibly, haven’t recorded a home league win since New Year's Day! Therefore, irrespective of a good result in the first leg of the Champions League tie, should they fail to win vs. Newcastle, then the title race really is all but over, with Chelsea highly unlikely to surrender a lead of over seven points.
City's Probable Team - Newcastle:
The big news ahead of the Newcastle fixture is that the Ivorians are back. Pellegrini will be delighted to have Yaya back, with City’s record without him (W 1, D3, L2) speaking for itself. However, despite the return of arguably the team’s most pivotal player, all the excitement this week has been about another African powerhouse: Wilfried Bony. The £27.5m January acquisition has completed a full week of training with his new team-mates at the CFA, and is expected to be thrown straight in from the start against Newcastle. Obviously, not everyone agrees with this sentiment, with some City fans erring more on the side of caution. Whilst I understand why some would be slightly skeptical about throwing Bony straight in, let me convince you otherwise.
In the Autumn, Pellegrini displayed commendable pragmatism, dropping his preferred 4-4-2 formation due to the team’s stagnation. The decision to play Sergio Aguero as the lone forward worked wonders, with the Argentine netting 13 goals in 10 matches before suffering a knee injury against Everton. However, since the turn of the year, City’s problems have been turned upside down so to speak, with the team suffering from a lack of firepower in recent weeks. But, the arrival of Bony, and the return from injury of Edin Dzeko should put this problem to bed, with Pellegrini set to revert back to his beloved 4-4-2.
If anyone needs further evidence of Pellegrini’s intention to return to 4-4-2, then they need only to look at his quotes from Friday’s press conference. Here, Manuel was in a bullish mood, describing Bony as the “perfect player for our squad,” as, “we always try to play with 2 strikers.” The question then, appears to be Edin Dzeko or Wilfried Bony? Were Dzeko in good form, I feel the Bosnian would have a strong case. However, this simply isn’t the case. Dzeko remarkably hasn’t scored since 27th September, and hasn’t looked anything close to full fitness since his return over a month ago. Therefore, for me, this really is a simple decision. It’s Bony time.
Another dead cert to be thrown-in from the start today is Bony’s international compatriot, the returning Yaya Toure. Toure has been in full training since last Thursday and has trained without any problems for this period. So, barring a last minute injury scare, I’d suggest Toure is nailed-on to start, as the Ivorian still has one more game to serve on his suspension in the Champions League, meaning he’ll miss the tie with Barcelona.
With that crucial Champions League game in mind, Pellegrini is expected to name an unchanged defensive line from the victory over Stoke. Recent history suggests that Bacary Sagna could be preferred to Pablo Zabaleta in the Champions Legaue, meaning the Argentine should start today. Whilst Martin Demichelis is also expected to be preferred to Eliaquim Mangala against Messi and co.
Therefore, with all the above in mind, and bearing in mind that James Milner is the only absentee through injury, here’s the team Manuel Pellegrini could select: