MANCHESTER – Premier League leaders Liverpool and champions Manchester City are heading into an intense month of fixtures with neither looking close to their best.
Liverpool laboured to a 1-1 draw with Napoli in the Champions League on Wednesday, lacking the intensity and attacking potency that has been at the heart of their success under manager Juergen Klopp.
City stumbled to a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk in the same competition, with no sign of the zip and verve that has characterised Pep Guardiola's team over the past two title-winning seasons.
Both looked like sides who could do with a rest, a nice week in a warm-weather resort recharging their batteries, but the price of competing at the highest level -- at home and abroad -- is a gruelling December that offers no respite and plenty of potential bumps in the road.
City need no reminders of the dangers that lie in wait for them in Newcastle on Saturday -- one of their four defeats last season came in a 2-1 reverse at St James' Park in January.