Carabao Cup specialists Manchester City had no answer for Newcastle’s Jekyll and Hyde performance as Eddie Howe’s side set up another tilt at silverware…
The term ‘a game of two halves’ is a footballing trope that perfectly explains Newcastle United’s Carabao Cup third-round tie against Man City.
When City were drawn to face Newcastle, many hoped that we would be treated to a Carabao Cup classic, but what we got in the opening 45 minutes was a prolonged Pep Guardiola-inspired possession drill.
City were without a few key players through injury, but Julian Alvarez, Jack Grealish, Mateo Kovacic and Kalvin Phillips (for only the fifth time) started as they knocked the ball around St James’ Park while their opponents were made to chase their shadows.
This was by no means a full-strength Manchester City outfit but they still had too much for a Newcastle side that was unrecognisable from the one that embarrassed Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Eddie Howe made 10 (TEN) changes for this cup tie, with Nick Pope the only player to retain his place from the weekend and the gulf in class between Newcastle’s back-ups and Man City’s supporting cohort was clear as the Magpies were infuriatingly passive with their play.
It’s not too harsh to say that they resembled how a helpless Premier League relegation candidate performs against Man City as they could not retain possession on the rare occasion when Guardiola’s men lost control of the ball.
Luckily for Newcastle, City were in quite a forgiving mood and did not create too many clear openings as the best chance before the interval actually fell to Howe’s team.
The pattern of the play in the first half made it clear from the get-go that Newcastle’s only chance of scoring was on the counter and Jacob Murphy did not make the most of his one-on-one opportunity after being expertly set up by Alexander Isak as Stefan Ortega turned his shot away for a corner.
Newcastle’s supporters were given very little to shout about but this opening in the 40th minute raised encouragement ahead of what was expected to be another gruelling half of football.
Anthony Gordon and Bruno Guimaraes were sent on as half-time substitutes as Howe attempted to give his side a better chance of asserting their usual front-foot approach on City.
While I suspected that these changes would be in vain, they actually helped to transform this cup tie as Newcastle – in proper Jekyll and Hyde style – came out with intent and pushed their intense play on Man City with a vengeance.
Newcastle had more attacking success in the first two minutes in the second half than they did during the whole first half and Isak smashed the ball home from close range to break the deadlock in the 52nd minute after Joelinton’s initial dribble into the penalty area.
It’s as if Newcastle sitting off to allow Man City to do their usual schtick for 45 minutes was a ploy from Howe before he gave his players the green light to take the reins off.
This is risky as had Man City begun with a ruthless mindset, the game could have been taken away from Newcastle inside the opening half-hour. But this chess move worked a treat as Guardiola’s rattled players struggled to cope with their rival’s ferocity after the break.
Newcastle proved against AC Milan that they can defend well to ride out pressure from their opponents and they did that without too much trouble in the latter stages against Man City.
Tino Livramento in particular was outstanding as he gave Grealish a torrid evening and this led to Man City not creating a great deal in trying to get back into the cup tie.
I was ready to attack Howe and his players in this piece after their first-half display, but a remarkable turnaround sets them up to have another run at glory in the Carabao Cup, which is now wide open following City’s exit.
Newcastle came up short in the final of last year’s competition but their supporters showed that day how much winning a trophy would mean to them. They suffered heartbreak at Wembley earlier this year but their trophy drought will end sooner rather than later.
As for Man City, it is an unfamiliar disappointing evening for a side that has got so used to winning pretty much everything under Guardiola.
The Carabao Cup especially has been their competition – having won it six times since 2014 – but this trophy has now evaded them for three straight seasons.
Newcastle were able to expose a below-par Man City team on a night to remember for their supporters and while Guardiola’s gluttonous mob will likely scoop up the rest of this season’s trophies, the Magpies will be looking to get some silverware in the bag before their own era of dominance begins.
There is just the small matter of a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the fourth round to overcome next. Yet after beating last season’s Treble winners, that should be easy.