Struggling Newcastle welcomed champions elect Manchester City to St James’ Park for some post-Christmas football. The Magpies sat in 15th spot in the Premier League table heading into this game, and knew that a positive result would distance them from their relegation rivals. City meanwhile looked to maintain their remarkable lead at the top of the table, and take one more step towards the league title.
The woodwork saves the Magpies early on
It became clear from the first minute that Newcastle were going to set up with five at the back, looking to sit deep and frustrate the visitors, perhaps catching them on the break. Unsurprisingly Manchester City saw a lot of the ball in the opening exchanges, and the home side’s defence was almost opened up immediately. Fernandinho’s high cross found Sergio Aguero at the back post and the Argentinian international looked set to hand his side an early lead, but his cushioned shot bounced back off the outside of the post.
With the Magpies sitting so deep, an early injury to Vincent Kompany saw the introduction of Gabriel Jesus. Consequently Fernandinho dropped back into defence, meaning that the Cityzens were playing with just a single recognised centre half. Regardless, the visitors looked frighteningly comfortable in their surgeon-like approach going forward, and it looked only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken. Boos began to ring out around St James’ Park as Newcastle looked to have no interest in attacking, but the crowd were briefly lifted by a phenomenal reflex save by Rob Elliot from an Aguero header.
Sterling finally squeezes in the opener
At every point City were smothering Newcastle, not allowing them a moment to pause in possession, and knocking the ball around quickly when they themselves had it. In the end it was the red-hot Raheem Sterling who broke the deadlock, connecting brilliantly with the assist master De Bruyne. The Belgian picked up the ball 40-yards from goal, looked up, and floated an exquisite pass over the top of the Newcastle back line. Sterling’s curved run brought him onto the end of the pass, and a deft touch with the bottom of his left boot guided the ball past Elliot at the near post.
It was yet another stunning move from City, but they were almost caught out immediately at the other end. Kyle Walker failed to deal with a routine cross, allowing Rolando Aarons to get free at the back post. The young winger lifted a great shot over Ederson, only to see Nicolas Otamendi clear it off the line at the last second, preserving his side’s narrow lead. With normal service swiftly resumed, and Pep Guardiola’s side back in control, the class of De Bruyne became even more evident. A succession of pinpoint long, defence-splitting passes gave the likes of Sterling and Aguero a handful of chances before the break, and it was remarkable that the Rafa Benitez’s men managed to keep the score line at just 0-1 when the half-time whistle came.
City dominate but can’t kill the game
After registering a ludicrous 83% possession in the first half, City continued their dominance into the second period, toying with Newcastle just outside their box. It didn’t take long for Aguero to be gifted another great chance, this time from a Sterling cross. The striker stretched for it at the back post once again, but this time he couldn’t quite guide the ball back towards the net. Ilkay Gundogan was the next City player in the queue to have an attempt, but the German’s shot was too weak after a good driving run from midfield. The visitors control on the game was astonishing, but their inability to kill it off gave the St James’ Park crowd some hope.
While the score line remained narrow, the gulf in class was clear, and the Magpies never really looked a threat in attack. It was a rare sight to see Benitez’s players venture into City’s half, and the introduction of top scorer Dwight Gayle did little to change that. Aguero looked to have finally grabbed his goal just past the hour mark after a shot from De Bruyne ricocheted back off the post straight to the forward’s feet, but the Argentine was flagged offside. With yet another chance going begging Newcastle still clung on to the game, but were fortunate that a defensive header by Lascelles didn’t end up in their own net just a few moments later.
The Cityzens see out yet another win
Despite the slight sense of hope still persisting inside the stadium, Manchester City looked eerily comfortable with their one goal lead. A slower tempo of passing perhaps hinted at an acceptance of a narrow win, and with the home side offering very little going forward it became almost like a training ground passing drill for Guardiola’s players. At times the Newcastle players were chasing shadows, and the likes of Sterling and De Bruyne began to put on a masterclass.
As the clock ticked down the Magpies did eventually start to look for an equaliser, but their attacks looked blunt and half-hearted at best. Dwight Gayle came closest to finding the net, but his diving header trickled wide of the post, and it was City who seemed to benefit more from the game opening up. The increased space allowed the visitors to counter, but they looked more interested in preserving their lead than extending their streak of wins by two or more goals. It ended 0-1, and City couldn’t have been more deserving of the three points.
If it hadn’t been for a phenomenal pass by De Bruyne and a great finish by Sterling, Newcastle could have come away with a point in this game. Unfortunately for Rafa Benitez that wasn’t to be, and his side’s lack of ambition going forward was verging on embarrassing. Clearly a deep defensive line is necessary against the likes of City, but to essentially give up on attacking altogether, and at home, is almost insulting to the fans. The Magpies need goals and wins if they are going to guarantee themselves survival, but they couldn’t have been further from those things in this game.
In the end Manchester City managed to grind out a win in what could have been an incredibly frustrating evening. With the home side putting ten men behind the ball for much of the game, the Cityzens did well to come away with three points, and they took another impressive step towards a record-breaking title win. There aren’t many superlatives left to describe this City side, but their ability to utterly dominate and control games is bordering on terrifying.
Newcastle: Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Mbemba (Merino, 78’), Dummett, Manquillo, Murphy, Diame, Shelvey, Aarons (Atsu, 71’), Joselu (Gayle, 62’)
Man City: Ederson, Walker, Danilo, Kompany (Jesus, 11’), Otamendi, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva (Sane, 83’), Sterling, Fernandinho, Aguero (Mangala, 77’)
Goals: Sterling (0-1, 31’)
Referee: Andre Marriner
Yellow Cards: Gayle (75’)
Red Cards: None
Newcastle: Elliot 7, Yedlin 6, Lascelles 6, Mbemba 6 (Merino n/a), Dummett 6, Manquillo 6, Murphy 5, Diame 5, Shelvey 5, Aarons 6 (Atsu), Joselu 5 (Gayle 5)
Man City: Ederson 7, Walker 7, Danilo 7, Kompany n/a (Jesus 7), Otamendi 8, Gundogan 8, De Bruyne 9, Bernardo Silva 7 (Sane n/a), Sterling 9, Fernandinho 8.5, Aguero 7 (Mangala n/a)
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