A comfortable win in less-than-ideal circumstances. Manchester City overcame the disruption of Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus’s positive tests for Covid-19 to record a routine victory over Newcastle United, themselves depleted by the virus. Pep Guardiola’s side move within five points of leaders Liverpool, still believing they can make up that lost ground.
This was never really in doubt, even before kick-off. City’s winning streak against Newcastle at the Etihad is their longest against any top-flight opponent and stretched to its twelfth game here. Gundogan’s opener meant that City equalled the Premier League record for scoring against the same opponent, which stands at 24 consecutive matches.
Other than the three points, the performance of Joao Cancelo was another major positive. Filling in for Walker, the right-back played more like a right-sided central midfielder at times – like the inverted full-backs Guardiola popularised at Bayern Munich – and was a constant menace.
This result will not define Newcastle’s season. That was the dismal EFL Cup defeat by Brentford earlier this week, which left supporters staring down another season of Premier League subsistence at best. Steve Bruce’s side defended courageously and did well to keep the score down but offered next to nothing going forward and were never likely to responded quickly to Tuesday’s disappointment.
The impressive Cancelo had a hand in the breakthrough, which came after a quarter-of-an-hour and was oddly similar to the last goal City scored on this ground in the 1-1 draw with West Brom. As on the Tuesday before last, the same three players combined down the right, with Cancelo picking his head up and playing an inch-perfect through ball into Raheem Sterling’s feet.
Sterling attempted to move in on a goal but a growing mass of black and white stripes in front of him prevented the shot. He held onto the ball, waited a moment, then feinted to send goalkeeper Karl Darlow down on one knee, all of which bought Gundogan enough time to arrive late in front of Newcastle’s defence, receive a square pass and apply a close-range finish.
It was a well-worked goal, embodying the patience that City have shown in attack of late. Sometimes, they are too patient. Kevin De Bruyne’s wait for a goal from open play goes on, somehow, despite being put clean through on Darlow’s goal by a delicate Torres through ball. City’s captain for the evening waited too long to pull the trigger, allowing the Newcastle goalkeeper to block his eventual shot with his legs.
Fabian Schar could have reminded City of the dangers that come with this casual approach when he found space at the far post and stretched to meet a Joelinton header but he could not convert Newcastle’s only half-decent opportunity of the half. And within five minutes of the restart, hopes of an unlikely point were all but extinguished.
Cancelo was central to the action again and unlucky not to be credited with an assist. When Rodri’s shot was blocked, the City right-back muscled Miguel Almiron off the loose ball and sent a low cross into the six-yard box. Federico Fernandez believed he had done enough, spinning on his heels to block, but the ball fell directly into Torres’ path for a tap-in.
Of players younger than the 20-year-old Torres in Europe’s five major leagues, only Erling Haaland has scored more times this season. City should have had several more. Sterling was responsible for a remarkable miss, hitting Cancelo’s cross against his standing leg. His blushes were spared somewhat when Bernardo Silva hit the post from a narrow angle on the rebound.
Sergio Aguero, on as a late substitute, was spectacularly denied by Darlow from another searching Cancelo cross. There is a sense that the sooner or later, City will start converting these chances. Even if the style of play is noticeably more cautious, the goals should come. Until then, it is important to keep picking up points and from that perspective, this was very much job done.
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