If you’re after a barometer of where Manchester City find themselves at the moment, then you could do worse than gauge your summary from what the natives think of the enemy.
You won’t get many City fans who reckon Manchester United are the superior side and the vast majority will see a stronger spine of players and more individual talent.
Certainly Roberto Mancini shares similar views and in the aftermath of last Sunday’s derby defeat, he said: “United have more experience but we have a much better team and play much better football.”
Maybe, Roberto, but you’re still six points behind them and out of Europe, and they haven’t got players cowering behind walls and storming off down the tunnel.
They’re also a defensive shambles and have barely played well over a full 90 minutes all season, so if I were Mancini, I’d probably pipe down about having the better set of players.
In fact – statistically at least – United are only on a par with what they were doing last year. They might have scored and conceded more but their haul of 39 points is identical to this time 12 months ago and their healthy lead at the summit of the Premier League is largely down to City dropping eight points in comparison to their total a year ago.
They may only have lost one of their last 26 league games but there’s definitely something awry with the champions.
En route to their first top-flight title in 44 years, there were times when City were unplayable. Mancini’s men were a mix of power, poise and purpose that blasted many sides away but since the resumption there seems to have been a breakdown in confidence and communication which is severely hindering the defence of their crown.
That assertive tempo they gripped games with has gone and so has the authority which City so often exuded when they were in full flow. A six-point deficit at this stage is far from terminal but surely there won’t be the same neighborhood generosity on show this time around and if City are to regain and retain top spot, they’ll need to quickly start righting some of the wrongs.
If City need reminding about the team they were and want to be again, then a trip to Newcastle could be just what the doctor ordered. It was in these parts last May that the Citizens put in their most significant shift of the season to muscle past the Barcodes and leave themselves top with a game to play.
Yaya Toure ran the show after glugging two gallons of diesel, while Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany manned the decks in the face of the troublesome trio of Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa.
Further forward, David Silva schemed to provide ammunition to a pair of menacing Argies and if that lot can find their stride again, the 31/50 away win will certainly be on.
At present, City may not be the proposition they were that day – but neither are Newcastle. They too have struggled to kick on from last season and with a host of absentees taking its toll on a streamlined squad, the Magpies have won just one of their last ten in all competitions.
Last time out at St James’ Park, Newcastle were convincing in a 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic, but the three games before that produced two defeats and a draw with two goals scored and I think they’ll struggle to register this time around.
City have had their defensive foibles all campaign but it’s now three shut-outs in a row on the road and Mancini’s men to win to nil is tempting at 19/10, while a repeat of last year’s 2-0 scoreline at 27/4 is also well worth a look.
When two sides striving for their best come together, games can sometimes become bitty and disjointed and I’d be surprised if Alan Pardew doesn’t try to contain rather than control the visitors.
In eight home games so far this season, Newcastle have scored just four first-half goals and let in an equal amount before the oranges are handed out. In City’s seven away games, there have been just five goals by the interval.
That opens up the half-time/full-time market, with the draw/City selection well priced at 15/4 and given these two have scored almost two-thirds of their goals between them during the second 45 minutes, getting on over 1.5 goals after the restart is essential at .
As much as I strive, I can’t find much festive cheer for the Geordies. A price of 4/1 for the home win is pretty decent and the 29/10 draw offers even better value, but both should be avoided in my opinion.