Battling Magpies to take on City

Foden should be among the starters against Newcastle. — AFP

NEWCASTLE, who have unceremoniously tumbled from last season’s lofty heights that saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in two decades, face the wrath of Manchester City when the Premier League resumes after a two-week break.

Languishing in ninth place on the log and having lost their last matches in the tournament, the Magpies will have to play their best game of the season if they are to leave Manchester with anything to show for their visit to the Etihad Stadium.

Eddie Howe’s team, which played some wonderful football last season en route to finishing fourth, has found themselves at sea in almost all their fixtures this term.

But, in fairness, one must mention that Howe’s squad has been ravaged by injuries, which somehow has also brought about a loss in the form of some of those trusted warriors who have managed to stay fit.

City, for their part, are coming out in good form after a series of uncharacteristic sloppiness, which, at the height of their waywardness, had them lose three in a row.

Pep Guardiola’s side went to Saudi Arabia last month, won the FIFA Club World Cup, and have built nicely on it.

They are unbeaten in their last eight games across all competitions. And of those, seven have been victories – the last a 5-0 drubbing of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup.

Kevin De Bryune returned from a long injury layoff to earn the praise of Guardiola.

It was unclear (at the time of writing) whether Erling Haaland would be part of the squad for the Newcastle game.

The champions, though, are likely to call on Julian Alvarez, Phil Foden and Jeremy Doku up front.

The midfield is expected to be spearheaded again by Rodri, the influential Spanish dynamo, in the middle of the park, while Ruben Dias marshals the defence in front of goalkeeper Edersen.

To suggest who will turn out for the Magpies would be a wild guess. But we can expect Howe to field his strongest and have a real go of it at the Etihad.

But even if they do play better than they have this season, it might not be enough to upset Man City, which leaves one to ponder whether Newcastle will be soundly beaten by the side that moved ominously into third spot in the standings.

Arsenal, fourth on the log yet with the same number of points as Man City, should get the better of Crystal Palace.

These London derbies can be quite fiery at times, and this one may well take on that mantle.

Notwithstanding the Gunners’ desires to keep pace with league leaders Liverpool, second-placed Aston Villa and Man City, they might yet find the Eagles difficult to overcome.

Manchester United are yet to see the anticipated changes in fortune after Jim Ratcliffe recently bought into the Old Trafford club.

Manager Erik ten Hag’s season has been far from what he would have expected after finishing third last season and winning the League Cup along the way.

Before the January transfer window is shut, Man United are expected to make a couple of signings, but not some of the permutations being thrown around.

And against Tottenham Hotspur in the late kick-off tomorrow, the Red Devils face another tricky fixture.

Beset by all sorts of distractions this season, which have weighed heavily on the performances, Manchester United may yet find Spurs a much more difficult team to beat than what some of the fans say.

Tottenham, busy seeking to strengthen their squad with the addition of 21-year-old Genoa central defender Radu Dragusin, will be keen on the points.

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