Weblog: The football punter

Negative Newcastle may frustrate City early on

BT Sport 1, 5.30pm Saturday

Manchester City have become slowcoaches when it comes to breaking the deadlock and if Rafael Benitez parks the bus it could be a frustrating opening spell as the Premier League leaders aim to bounce back from last week's defeat to Liverpool.

Newcastle at home is the perfect opportunity for Pep Guardiola's men to respond in the right manner after losing the opportunity to go through the league season unbeaten and the Etihad hosts are quite rightly considered long odds-on favourites for maximum points.

However, Benitez has stalled enough opponents in his career with Liverpool, Valencia, Chelsea and Real Madrid to name just four of his previous clubs to consider backing the time of the first goal to come after 20 minutes.

Only twice in their last 17 matches have City scored in the opening 20 minutes as opponents at least work on a formula that protects them from a heavy beating and pack their defences.

Watford caved in the first minute and Spurs were undone from a set-piece after 14 minutes but Bristol City, Burnley, Bournemouth, West Ham and Southampton stood firm at the Etihad, while last month's reverse fixture finished in a 1-0 City win.

That goal came from Raheem Sterling just after the half-hour mark as Newcastle put everyone behind the ball.

Benitez was criticised in some parts for such a negative approach - they had only 22 per cent possession - but the Spaniard is not one to be in any way concerned by outside objections to his team tactics.

Newcastle have lost away to Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal this season but did not concede in the opening 20 minutes of those difficult trips. The Magpies did not collapse early either in their home fixtures with City, Tottenham and Liverpool.

Bizarrely, it was Newcastle who landed the first blow at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge through Dwight Gayle, whose swift breakthroughs would actually have ruined this bet.

However, Gayle has gone eight games without a goal and City are unlikely to be pressed into defensive errors in a similar way to last week's thrilling 4-3 defeat at Liverpool.

Goalkeeper Ederson had his worst day in English football and, for all City looked uncomfortable at times, it still needed some sensational finishing from Liverpool to end their tilt at invincibility.

David Silva, who was only a sub at Anfield, should be available and with him alongside Kevin De Bruyne City should eventually find the right pass to land an 11th straight home Premier League triumph.

First goal after 20:00 minutes


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Match in Focus


Doncaster v Bradford

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Doncaster have won only two of 12 home matches against teams currently above them in League One
Expert verdict
Two teams struggling for wins meet at the Keepmoat Stadium and it could pay to back the draw when Doncaster host Bradford in a Yorkshire derby. Neither team is easy to trust with Donny slipping dangerously close to the relegation zone, sitting 17th only four points from trouble, while Bradford are down to 11th, seven points off the playoff pace.