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Manchester City-Newcastle United Preview
The injury bug around Manchester City has gotten so bad Pep Guardiola is turning to Jesus.
Gabriel Jesus, that is.
Expected to be the team's centre-forward for at least the next few weeks as Sergio Aguero recovers from a thigh injury, Jesus will try to help keep City's offence in flow Saturday when they face Newcastle United at St James' Park.
Jesus, who has five goals and three assists in 17 matches across all competitions, has occasionally filled this role when Aguero has picked up assorted knocks. But with the reigning champions nine points behind table-topping Liverpool and in third place in the table, there has never been this much pressure on the Brasil international to produce goals.
The first such opportunity without Aguero came Tuesday night, when City got the required minimum result - a 1-1 draw at home versus Shakhtar Donetsk - to clinch the top spot in Group C of the Champions League with a match to spare.
Jesus, flanked by Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva in Guardiola's preferred 4-3-3, had a spotty first 45 minutes but assisted on Ilkay Gundogan's goal in the 56th minute as he received a pass from Kevin De Bruyne and cut the ball back for the German, who first-timed his shot past Andriy Pyatov.
"We are on the way," Gundogan told the club's official website, quickly turning his attention to making up ground domestically. "In the Premier League, we are nine points behind the leaders - it's not what we aimed for but this is the situation you have to deal with. The Premier League is so competitive and strong. We dropped unnecessary points in some games. To be able to maintain your place at the top, you're not allowed to.
"Liverpool are impressing week by week but we need to be there if they make a mistake to close the gap."
The wavelength between De Bruyne - the team's string-puller in the midfield - and Jesus could go a long way in determining how much ground, if any, City can make up on Liverpool without Aguero. This match starts of run in three of four away, and the lone home contest is the Manchester derby versus United.
De Bruyne has 10 assists in 17 matches in all competitions, including a Premier League-best nine, and Aguero was on the finishing end of three of them. The Belgium international also still has plenty of goal-scoring prowess, netting the equaliser in last weekend's 2-1 win over Chelsea before Riyad Mahrez bagged the winner on 37 minutes.
Newcastle United (4-3-6) are looking for ways to avoid a relegation scrap as they enter this contest 14th on 15 points, having the worst goal difference among Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion. The Magpies were thwarted in a bid for a third win on the bounce Monday, losing 2-0 at promoted Aston Villa as their midfield were unable to contain Jack Grealish throughout the contest.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce continues to not have much luck getting his preferred offensive trio of Joelinton, Miguel Almiron, and Allan Saint-Maximin firing. They have combined for one goal and one assist - both by the club-record £40 million signing Joelinton - in a combined 2,698 minutes.
Bruce did try to shake things up by switching to a 4-4-2 and introducing veteran target man Andy Carroll for the final half-hour, but the Toons remain a goal-starved side - their 11 are second joint-lowest with Crystal Palace and ahead of only last-place Watford (8). Bruce, though, remains committed to getting the three - all aged 25 and younger - going.
"They are going to have to keep working away at it," Bruce told the Chronicle Live. "Every game that goes by you will ask the same question. The only thing we need to do is hope that one comes off their backside and they get moving. That's what happens with a forward player."
Despite the fan base's unrest regarding owner Mike Ashley, Newcastle have strung together positive results at St James. The Toons are unbeaten in their last five (2-3-0) there after opening the season with a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.
Beating the two-time champions, though, for a second straight time at home after last term's 2-1 victory looks to be a Herculean task. Matt Ritchie's penalty on 80 minutes proved decisive as the Toons ended a 21-match winless streak (0-3-18) in league play against City that dated to a 1-0 victory in September 2005.
Despite the loss, Manchester City have scored in 21 consecutive contests versus Newcastle, going 17-3-1 while outscoring the Magpies 54-13. City also had a 10-match unbeaten run (8-2-0) in league play at St James' snapped with last season's defeat.
Updated November 27, 2019