Steve Bruce's Newcastle United side take on the newly-crowned Premier League Champions Man City at St. James' Park on Friday night after Leicester's win at Old Trafford confirmed a third top flight title in four years is heading to The Etihad as the Geordie manager waits to see if he is Manager of the Month for April.
Bruce is a 3-time Premier League Champion himself winning English football's Premier prize as Captain of Man United in the early 1990s and his Magpies team played like Champions themselves last time out thrashing Leicester 4-2 at The King Power Stadium - a Foxes team that beat Man City 5-2 at The Etihad earlier in the campaign - to clinch safety and stun the footballing world with a great display including a superb 4th goal in which all 11 players touched the ball before Callum Wilson played a 1-2 off the post before slotting home to make it 4-0:
Despite a late Leicester flurry with two goals in the last ten minutes, the three points collected thanks to goals from Man of the Moment Joe Willock, Paul Dummett and two from top gun Callum Wilson, meant the Magpies' mathematically secured survival when Fulham lost to Burnley 2-0 on Monday night which condemned Scott Parker's men to the stop.
Newcastle against Man City is now a dead rubber match although with 3 points up for grabs and a further six available in the two games remaining against Sheffield United and Fulham, a hat-trick of wins could mean Newcastle finish the season on 48 points so could still finish 12th although Callum Wilson being ruled out of the rest of the season as a precaution makes the task harder:
Newcastle may be without top scorer Wilson, who notched 12 goals in his 28 Premier League games this season, but do have the bulk of the team and squad that drew 2-2 last season at St. James' Park thanks to goals from Jetro Willems and JonJo Shelvey so Steve Bruce's men know they are capable of getting a result against the very best on their day and will approach the game with confidence after a superb run of recent form with Joelinton who led the line well in last November's game likely to star:
Man City's remaining Premier League games are against Newcastle, Brighton and Everton although with the title already in the bag, understandably their main focus will be on The Champions League Final clash against Chelsea on May 29th, a game that will now be played in Porto in Portugal after Istanbul was ruled out due to the Corona Virus although why the football authorities didn't possess the common sense to host an all-English final at Wembley in London is anyone's guess.
In last week's dress rehearsal, Chelsea won 2-1 at The Etihad after Pep Guardiola's team threw away not just a goal lead but a golden chance to kill the game off and secure the title when Sergio Aguero ludicrously decided to attempt a Panenka penalty kick which Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy simply stood up to and caught:
Yet Man City got over the title line thanks to bitter rivals' Manchester United's loss and can still complete what would be a historic treble for the club along with The League Cup that is already in the bag as well and, after a small party on Tuesday night at the club's training academy, Guardiola kept the players to their schedule and had them in training on Wednesday morning instead of a day off to celebrate their title victory.
In December, Man City beat Newcastle 2-0 at The Eithad after goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Ferran Torres yet in that game The Magpies were without talisman Allan Saint-Maximin and influential playmaker & stand-in skipper JonJo Shelvey so it could be a different story at St. James' Park underneath The Friday Night Lights.
In his pre-match press conference, Pep Guardiola confirmed that star man Kevin De Bruyne will not be travelling to St James Park, the ground on which he scored a fantastic goal last season in that 2-2 draw and spoke of his squad's celebrations on Tuesday night when they became Champions following Man United's loss to Leicester:
"It was so nice, normally the unexpected parties are the nicest ones. All together we came here in our bubble, everyone is safe. We drink a bit, dance, hug, at 11.30-12 pizzas arrived and that was the best moment of the night. I was not in my perfect condition to decide the best pizza. All of them were circular! In England the parties are just alcohol, not food I don't understand why, so when the pizza arrived was the best moment."
and his pride at clinching a 5th title in a decade for Man City in the ultra-competitive Premier League:
"I feel especially so good, these people who we work with the five years. The title is important but we make a big picture at Manchester City in the last ten years, we've won five. The last eight we won four. That's incredible. It's more important than just this title. We've been in the Champions League for a lot of seasons. To win five in a decade in this country is massive. "
John Stones also returns to contention for Man City after serving a 3-match ban.
In his press conference, Steve Bruce paid tribute to Pep Guardiola and Man City:
"You can't speak highly enough of the fella, he always has this insatiable appetite so success a bit like my old boss Sir Alex and once one title is won, its onto the next one...Congratulations to Man City who have played some breathtaking football this season even against the top teams in Europa and Pep is the best manager in the world"
About his own side's season, Bruce joked "What's all the fuss being about?!" when asked if he was pleased his team had clinched Premier League survival with 3 games to spare.
"Look I'm a football manager, its what I do...I'm not ready to retire yet..
In tough times, you dig deep and lean on your experience..
And we're delighted with the response from the players
Leicester was the best performance since I've been at Newcastle and we had the identity that we want to be... we were a real threat..
We've got the makings of a very good team when everybody's fit.
If we can get the same points as last season we'll accept it but not celebrate it.
We've got to put together a really decent team which the supporters will support & enjoy watching which I'm sure like myself they enjoyed watching like Leicester & Spurs at home... when the top half of the pitch is fit, we've got the makings of a very decent side"
Prediction - Newcastle 2 Man City 1