Normal service is resumed. After falling to a ninth defeat of the season at Southampton on Sunday due to wayward finishing, there were no further surprises for a ruthless Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side continued their preparations for FA Cup and Champions League knock-out ties to come by running amok against Newcastle United, who had no answer to the recently dethroned Premier League champions.
City can still lay claim to the crown until Liverpool’s trophy lift later this month and here was an emphatic reminder of the style and verve which their back-to-back, 198-point title wins were built on. Strikes by Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, David Silva and Raheem Sterling sandwiched a Federico Fernandez own goal to run up a 5-0 scoreline that fully reflected the gulf in class between the two sides.
This may have been Newcastle’s first outing since mathematically securing their Premier League safety at the weekend but, much like the FA Cup quarter final between these two sides at St James’ Park 10 days earlier, they were still in damage limitation mode. Steve Bruce’s side attempted to extend their six-game unbeaten run – the top flight’s second-longest – by sitting deep with a five-man defence and soaking up City’s pressure but their resistance lasted all of 10 minutes.
Jesus ended a nine-game goal drought, during which his suitability as a backup to Sergio Aguero has been questioned. It was difficult not to think of the Brazilian a day earlier when, during his pre-match press conference, Guardiola admitted City have had a problem with finishing their chances this season. Jesus too often snatches at opportunities but showed greater composure than at St Mary’s on Sunday, applying an accomplished side-foot finish to Silva’s low cross.
Moments before City’s second, Newcastle won a throw-in on the same touchline as the two technical areas. Guardiola spent the brief stoppage instructing each of his players who to mark, dragging them around the pitch until every angle was covered. Newcastle worked possession out to the other flank but City won the ball back within seconds, with Foden slipping De Bruyne towards the byline. His cut-back evaded Newcastle’s retreating defenders and found Mahrez, who stroked into the unguarded far corner of Martin Dubravka’s net.
It was De Bruyne’s 18th assist of the season – two fewer than Thierry Henry’s Premier League record – but a exemplary team goal rather than about any individual, and an example of Guardiola’s belief that you are only a few seconds away from scoring in any situation, even when defending an apparently innocuous throw-in.
Phil Foden had a hand in both opening goals – providing the ‘assist before the assist’ each time – but his own attempts to add his name on the scoresheet went awry with two poor misses either side of half time. Instead, Newcastle’s Fernandez showed him how to do it. After Jesus slipped into the penalty area following a one-two with Foden, Matt Ritchie hit the loose ball against his team-mate and it dropped neatly into the bottom corner, just outside the reach of Dubravka’s left hand for an own goal.
If Newcastle thought City’s substitutions might bring some respite, they were wrong. Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Kyle Walker were all introduced along with Premier League debutant Tommy Doyle, whose grandfather Glyn Pardoe – City’s youngest-ever player – sadly passed away during football’s suspension. Doyle attempted to crown his first league appearance with a goal soon after his introduction, but a shot from the edge of the area was safely held.
If that could have been the first Etihad goal for a City midfielder, this game also saw what could be the last. With only two home games remaining and Guardiola’s infamously unsentimental rotation policy, Silva has to take every chance he can get before his departure at the end of the season. After Sterling was brought down on the edge of the penalty area, the Spaniard stepped up and wrapped the ball into the top left-hand corner.
Silva added his second assist of the evening just as the Etihad’s stadium announcer declared him man of the match. City’s captain cut out a slack Nabil Bentaleb pass, broke into open space and switched to Sterling who drew Dubravka out of goal and slid the fifth home. Guardiola spent the early part of this week bemoaning his players’ wastefulness. This is what it looks like when they take their many chances.