What Amanda Staveley already knew about Newcastle United after Man City ‘treble bragging’

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Newcastle United hope to be challenging Manchester City on and off the pitch in years to come but Saturday served a reminder that there is still work to do.

After finishing fourth in the Premier League last season and dismantling Aston Villa in their 2023-24 opener, no one could fault Newcastle United’s growing belief that they could inflict an upset on Manchester City - but perhaps the end result was hinted at pre-match.

The Citizens were in early party mode. Having just added the UEFA Super League to their trophy cabinet on Wednesday, the visit of the Magpies served as the Etihad Stadium’s first opportunity to pay tribute to their treble-winning heroes. It was some sight to be fair, with a tifo in the East Stand displaying the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup trophies, whilst a huge banner on the pitch simply read ‘treble winners’.

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But no, City, having given a lot physically to beat Sevilla 72 hours earlier and without Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones and Bernardo Silva, you, like me, might have thought it was set up for United to catch Pep Guardiola’s side on an off day. To some extent, Newcastle did. The hosts weren’t at their mesmerising best but showed grit to win comfortably, albeit by a narrow 1-0 scoreline, and that, adding in the pre-match treble bragging, served as an instant reminder that Eddie Howe’s side, despite the understandable optimism, are still some distance away from City.

Newcastle players Fabian Schar (l) Sven Botman (c) and Nick Pope react dejectedly after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Newcastle players Fabian Schar (l) Sven Botman (c) and Nick Pope react dejectedly after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Newcastle players Fabian Schar (l) Sven Botman (c) and Nick Pope react dejectedly after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) | Getty Images

That said, Newcastle arrived at Eastlands with full intention of taking the game to City. Howe wanted front foot, high press, energy and intensity - four traits that have typified this team over the last 12 months, but such is the power of Guardiola’s side that United barely got out their own half during the opening 45 minutes. It made it seem like Howe had set up to contain City but he confirmed afterwards that wasn’t the case.

“Our plan was to go after them like we did in the second half but sometimes in football that happens,” Howe told NewcastleWorld. “It frustrated me and I’m sure it frustrated the players but much better in the second half. We were much more front foot but to take a risk when you look at Ederson kicking! I have to say, I thought our back four defended really well. We weren’t perfect technically, so there were some transitions and a lot of counter-attacks to defend but I thought we dealt with them really well.”

Howe was right to heap praise on the back four. Kieran Trippier got the better of England teammate Jack Grealish in one-v-one duels, while Sven Botman and Fabian Schar both kept the super-human Erling Haaland relatively quiet. Social media suggests fans are keen to criticise Dan Burn at any given opportunity, but he couldn’t be faulted, not least defensively.

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Indeed, where the game was lost was in the midfield. Joelinton has plenty of credit in the bank so I’m sure he’ll be forgiven for arguably his worst performance since Howe arrived in November 2021. But the Brazilian couldn’t stop gifting the ball away in the opening stages and was ultimately caught slacking when he left Julian Alvarez unmarked to score the only goal of the game on the half-hour mark. He wasn’t the only one failing to track City’s runners though as Phil Foden ran the show. Bruno Guimaraes and Sandro Tonali were OK in possession but lacked cohesion. The Italian was withdrawn on 67 minutes and Sean Longstaff restored some balance, which will likely see him start Sunday’s clash against Liverpool if Joelinton’s injury forces him out.

So too did Howe introduce Harvey Barnes, Callum Wilson and Elliot Anderson from the bench with the likes of Anthony Gordon and Alexander Isak replaced. All three helped United ask questions of the City defence in the second half but one shot on target all evening tells you those questions weren’t serious enough. Miguel Almiron, you can’t knock his effort and determination, but the Paraguayan was particularly wasteful in the final third.

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And that’s the most disappointing thing to emerge, the fact United failed to lay a glove on City. The pre-match belief wasn’t misplaced. Again, it was only last week Newcastle tore through a Villa side heavily tipped by many as this campaign’s dark horses. It is part of the reason why Howe & Co left the Etihad Stadium believing they could have done more.

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It might have felt like fine margins on the pitch but off the pitch, the differences between the two clubs remain stark. Only time - and regular investment - will ‘bridge the gap’ but that’s nothing Amanda Staveley and the Magpies’ decision-makers don’t already know. Man City are 16 years into its Middle Eastern ownership. Even then, success didn’t follow straight away. Newcastle, meanwhile, are only just approaching the two-year mark and have performed above expectation.

Following last year’s top-four finish, Howe faces the even greater challenge of proving his team are one of the big boys and here to stay. So, what better than a St James’ Park meeting with Liverpool? It’s about time Newcastle get one over on the Reds with supporters desperate to wipe the smile off Jurgen Klopp’s face following countless digs.

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