IT'S Pep at the Parade on Saturday teatime as Manchester City visit League Two Newport County and FA Cup lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares two selections.
Newport v Manchester City | Saturday 16th February 2019, 17:30 | BT Sport
Newport County might be three divisions below Manchester City, poles apart from them in terms of infrastructure, budget and quality, but they are perfectly comfortable with their role as underdogs in this FA Cup script.
Since taking charge in Spring 2017, Pillgwenlly-born and bred hero Michael Flynn has unleashed the unique spirit that lies within the club.
It is that sense of togetherness, the close bond between club and fans, which has enabled them to go on two cup adventures in two seasons, winning British hearts and minds in the process.
Can they now produce what would be one of the greatest FA Cup shocks of all time?
Newport’s key men back in
Fraser Franks, a key defensive figure from the Fourth Round 2-1 win over Leicester, is back fit to play alongside leader Mickey Demetriou and ball-playing talent Regan Poole, back on loan from Manchester United after leaving Rodney Parade in 2015.
Joss Labadie was reportedly rested on Tuesday night and, because his power, tenacity and determination makes the former Dagenham man so important in terms of triggering the press, natives will be hoping he returns to toughen up the midfield, with a switch from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 looking plausible.
Starting with two strikers in Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond against one of the best squads in world football could be a risk – then again, the duo have scored seven FA Cup goals between them this term and of course, Newport have not achieved what they have by conforming to expectation.
Will Pep rotate?
There appears to be three broad categories of players in Manchester City’s squad: those who started last week’s 6-0 win over Chelsea, those who didn’t but are still of Champions League-level quality and Development Squad talents feeling their way into the senior game.
There is an outside possibility, with a Champions League last-16 tie coming up, followed by the EFL Cup Final, then two more Premier League games all within the subsequent fortnight, that Guardiola will want to rest a lot of senior players from the first two categories.
In that scenario, we might see some players we saw in the 1-0 EFL Cup Semi-Final Second Leg win at Burton; namely centre-backs Phillippe Sandler and Eric Garcia plus wide forward
Ian Carlo Poveda-Ocampo.
If that were the case, there would be potential for Newport – target man Matt and long throw specialist Demetriou especially – to test the savviness of some of those players by giving them a slightly awkward and unusual type of challenge to adapt to.
More realistically however, past evidence suggests that Pep Guardiola employs a business-like approach to domestic cup competitions.
His standard protocol is to field a competitive side in a bid to kill the tie off; plus, because they tend to have so much possession against EFL opponents, the encounters can at times resemble a keep-ball training exercise, rather than an overly draining clash.
Newport’s 99 problems – pitch ain’t one
Newport County share Rodney Parade with two rugby teams and, as we can see from the YouTube-able highlights of Tuesday’s 1-0 home defeat to MK Dons, the pitch is very muddy.
That might not necessarily be an issue for Man City defensively.
If John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi start at centre-back as fans expect, rather than Sandler and Garcia, the experienced duo should have the toughness to handle the conditions.
Stones has played at Rochdale, for example, for Barnsley while Otamendi, schooled in the back-streets of Buenos Aires, is no shrinking violet.
However, the pitch might influence Man City’s approach from an attacking perspective.
Should they establish a comfortable lead early in the match, they will have two options: go all out for more goals or work at a more leisurely pace for a more modest scoreline.
Because goal difference is not a factor in the FA Cup and there is no second leg to this tie unless there’s a draw, the margin by which the visitors win – if they do win – is almost irrelevant.
Equally, should they proactively commit to attacking at a high-tempo and scoring more goals with the game already wrapped up, the conditions mean they will risk unnecessary injuries occurring ahead of crunch clashes.
We could see Guardiola opting to bring the likes of Poveda, Tom Dele-Bashiru and Felix Nmecha off the bench to give them first-team experience, whilst protecting the established stars.
The Betting Angle
Manchester City will be keen to do their work for this tie inside 45 minutes and it is not difficult to see them scoring three or more goals in quick succession; especially if they start with a front three of Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, with bright talent Phil Foden behind them.
The visitors are 7/2 with Betfair to score Over 2.5 first half goals.
Since Pep Guardiola took charge, City have played six domestic cup games away to lower league opposition; in four of those encounters – Huddersfield, Cardiff, Wigan and Burton – they have not scored a second half goal.
Huddersfield achieved a goalless draw to earn a replay while Wigan recorded a shock 1-0 win last, but in the case of the Cardiff and Burton games, City did not need to add to their tally.
Betfair’s 6/1 on the visitors scoring Under 0.5 second half goals is therefore equally appealing.
Essentially, we could see the outcome of 90 minutes of action decided in 45.