Was Benitez right to go defensive against Manchester City?
By Joe Harker
In football a match that ends one goal deciding victory can often be described as a close run thing, but Manchester City's 1-0 victory against Newcastle United is probably not among those.
Raheem Sterling got the first half goal to win the game and Newcastle largely sat deep and tried their best to hold off the Premier League leaders. After the match Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez was criticised for his defensive tactics, though others stepped in to fight his corner.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville was less than impressed with Newcastle's approach, suggesting they were too defensive and showed "absolutely no ambition whatsoever". He does not dispute that a team with an attack like like Man City's may make defensive tactics necessary, but believes Newcastle did not attempt to win the game. He said: "Containment is the right way to look at it because you're going to have a lot of time without the ball.
"But I also don't think we should just sit and accept that first 30 minutes. No ambition from Newcastle. That's not acceptable in this league. It's difficult of course from Rafa Benitez's point of view."
Newcastle were so defensive in the game that City manager Pep Guardiola felt secure enough to bring on another striker when centre back Vincent Kompany went off injured after 11 minutes. He believed that his side would not be put under sufficient pressure to require a complete defence and turned out to be right. He did say it was "difficult to play" against opponents that pack the defence so tightly and leave as little space as possible, but 18 league wins in a row suggests that they are good enough to cope with opponents who try to frustrate them. He said: "We did absolutely everything but it is difficult to play when the other team doesn't want to play.
"As a manager I have to adapt. We have played teams who high press, low press, attack us. Any manager and team can play how they want. And you have to find a way to beat them."
The dilemma of going for it against a vastly superior opponent in the hopes of nicking a goal and possibly even causing an upset, or sitting back and seeking to frustrate opponents with everything crossed that some golden chance to score will present itself is a difficult one for managers who have faced Man City this season.
Newcastle were defeated and outclassed in a game that was not particularly entertaining, but if they had tried to go for it in all likelihood they would have been smashed by a much more punishing scoreline. It causes a problem when every team resorts to the latter option, as the Premier League prides itself on entertainment and it is not very thrilling if one team runs away with it and plays a succession of games against opponents who simply defend.