Man City fail to hit top gear in Newcastle win but again show the quality in their ranks
The champions didn’t reach the heights of the midweek win over Leeds, but demonstrated why they’re favourites to claim another league title.
While the Magpies’ problems are undeniably severe, for Pep Guardiola’s men, they’re finding a scintillating run form of form at another busy time of the season.
That was City’s eighth league win in a row, while their one loss in the last 11 in all competitions came in the meaningless encounter with RB Leipzig. They’ve netted 11 without reply this week, will be top of the pile at Christmas and made it 34 league wins in a calendar year, setting a new English top-flight record.
Remarkably, for the fixture-heavy period of the campaign, City now have a seven-day gap without a game, and are next in action on Boxing Day, while Kyle Walker, Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden were all rested at St James’ Park.
For those on the blue side of Manchester, this really does feel like the most wonderful time of the year…
City spread Christmas cheer
Yet, while the outcome was excellent on Tyneside, the performance at times was a little scrappy, almost porous through the centre.
Rodri, perhaps City’s most reliable and underrated performer of the campaign, struggled to get to grips with the energetic Joelinton in the centre of the park, while it was a surprise to see Joe Willock hauled off at the break after such an impressive first-half showing.
Likewise, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Marhez were ineffective during the opening 45, while Kevin De Bruyne was failing to exert the level of control he so commandingly demonstrated against Leeds United on Tuesday.
The Magpies had played 48 hours later than City during the midweek round of fixtures, but those in attendance at St James’ Park could have been forgiven for thinking it was the latter, not Newcastle, who were more recently in action.
Had Guardiola’s men not been gifted such an easy opener, the game could have been much less comfortable for City. It was a mix-up from Martin Dubravka and Ciaran Clark that presented Ruben Dias with an unopposed first-half header inside the six-yard after just five minutes.
Neither the Newcastle goalkeeper or defender claimed the ball from Joao Cancelo’s cross, and allowed it to bounce through to an almost disbelieving Dias.
The early goal gave the visitors a sense of comfort and despite Newcastle's dogged workrate and willing pressing, Eddie Howe’s men failed to muster a shot on Ederson’s goal until the 80th minute.
The same couldn’t be said of City with Cancelo, unquestionably the Blues’ best performer in the North-East, netting a sublime second on 27 minutes. The Portuguese full-back advanced forward and from a central position cut onto his right foot and blasted an effort beyond Dubravka.
From there, it seemed impossible Newcastle could mount a comeback, although they should have been awarded a first-half penalty for Ederson’s slide on Ryan Fraser. The Brazilian came out to claim the ball at the corner of the box, only for Cancelo to nip away with it at the last second, and the onrushing Ederson barrelled into the Newcastle winger.
Yet somehow, neither referee Martin Akinson or the VAR officials at Stockley Park viewed it as a foul and City advanced to half-time without handing the hosts a much-needed lifeline.
Better second-half display from City
The break was needed for City, who demonstrated much more control and possession in the second period. At times, Newcastle who had pressed so diligently in the first 45, couldn’t get anywhere near the ball.
With that possession, the champions killed the game and preserved energy ahead of another action-packed period of the season. Replacing Ruben Dias and Rodri with 20 minutes remaining perhaps is the clearest indication of Guardiola’s immediate concern.
Those substitutions came after Riyad Mahrez had made it 3-0 when he calmly slotted his volley past Dubravka after an Oleksandr Zinchenko cross. The goal, the winger’s 50th for City, was initially ruled offside, but that decision was subsequently overturned after a VAR review.
With City now firmly in control a fourth always seemed likely, and it was Raheem Sterling who provided it. He poked home at the back post following a jinxing run and pass from Gabriel Jesus, one of the numerous City players who improved as the game progressed.
It proved to be the final significant act of a day in which City failed to hit their ludicrously high standards, but proved once again, just how much quality this star-studded squad possesses.