Face Manchester City in opener tonight
19 August ~ The final game of the opening Premier League round of fixtures pits Manchester City against Newcastle United at the Etihad stadium. For so long lumped together by similarity, now it would be difficult to think of them as further apart: the respective owners of the two clubs have taken different paths. City have again strengthened expensively in the summer. Two Spaniards, the prolific Álvaro Negredo and creative Jesús Navas are joined by forward Stevan Jovetic and midfielder Fernandinho, reportedly for almost £90 million.
That's roughly the same figure as the turnover in the last accounts produced by Newcastle, who have signed only one senior player in their attempt to improve upon last season's near-relegation. Loïc Rémy, on loan from QPR, is currently on bail until mid-September on a charge of rape and is missing tonight through injury.
Newcastle have also lost a number of squad players either sold or loaned out. When a major factor in last season's troubles was the lack of strength in the squad, it is inescapable that director of football Joe Kinnear has either failed miserably at his first task or there was never any intention to strengthen in the first place. The gap in ambition between the two clubs is best signified by City discarding their only title-winning manager in 45 years for finishing as runner-up in both league and FA Cup, while Alan Pardew survived overseeing a slump from fifth-top to fifth-bottom in a single season.
If City's neighbours have, as they claim, been burdened with an excessively difficult opening set of fixtures, then the beneficiary is undoubtedly Pardew and Newcastle. After this weekend Newcastle wait until the last day of September before meeting anyone from last season's top seven, those above the Premier League pack. It's imperative that a decent run of form is constructed on the back of that if Newcastle are to stay clear of the relegation worries which affected their style so much last year they became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seemingly inevitable defeat tonight could either quickly be compensated for or begin a trend.
For the first half of their title-winning season, City's expansive attacking play seemed unstoppable, until Roberto Mancini reined them in. Frighteningly for Newcastle, City's new manager Manuel Pellegrini has confirmed that he intends to use the attacking style he's deployed elsewhere. Nevertheless, in the short-term, improvement is required from Newcastle on last season's depressing 4-0 reverse in this fixture, not necessarily in the scoreline but in not turning up with the sole ambition of maintaining 0-0 for as many minutes of the 90 as possible. Keeping the score down as a policy is not self-fulfilling. It is self-defeating. Mark Brophy