Manchester City made it 18 wins in a row in the Premier League with a 1-0 procession against Newcastle United on Wednesday.
Raheem Sterling’s 13th league goal of the season secured the result for Pep Guardiola’s side and sent them 15 points clear of Manchester United at the top.
The only negative for the visitors was the loss of captain Vincent Kompany to injury early in the first half, the centre-back going off with a suspected calf problem.
The slender scoreline belied what was one of City’s most comfortable victories of an astounding campaign, with Newcastle offering almost no resistance despite having lost their previous four league matches at home.
Rafa Benitez made five changes to the side that beat West Ham last time out, with his line-up including Rolando Aarons – who had not started in the league all season – and Paul Dummett, making his first appearance in the top flight since the opening day loss to Tottenham.
Sergio Aguero twice hit the post before Sterling at last made City’s dominance count in the 31st minute, but despite their total control of the game from then on they could not add to the scoreline.
Newcastle barely threatened in the closing stages, meaning they remain just a point outside the relegation zone in 15th, while City tightened their grip on the title and are one victory short of matching Bayern Munich’s record for Europe’s top divisions of 19 wins in succession.
17th of the season! pic.twitter.com/BpN2hZFxq2
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 27, 2017
Jonjo Shelvey tried a shot straight from kick-off, before the whole Newcastle side dropped into their defensive third to stem the expected early tide of City attacks.
Aguero could have scored after only six minutes, turning Fernandinho’s cross onto the outside of the right-hand post, and the fact Guardiola introduced Gabriel Jesus for the injured Kompany 11 minutes in highlighted the lack of ambition from the home side.
Despite the defensive blow for City, Newcastle continued to draw every player back towards their penalty area in a bid to frustrate the visitors, but Rob Elliot had to make a brilliant reaction save to keep out an Aguero header before the Argentine rattled the woodwork again with a strike from the edge of the area.
The resistance did not last much longer. Kevin De Bruyne sent a sublime pass over the top of the home defence and into the path of Sterling, who prodded the ball in off the left-hand post past the helpless Elliot.
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 27, 2017
The goal temporarily sparked Newcastle into life and it took a timely header off the line from Nicolas Otamendi to keep out Aarons’ chip, but Sterling would have added a second goal prior to the break were it not for another good Elliot save.
359 – Manchester City completed 359 more passes than Newcastle United in the first half. Control. pic.twitter.com/FHpRLUf6cy
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 27, 2017
Indeed, City enjoyed 83.4 per cent possession in the first half and their monopoly of the ball continued after the break, with Sterling fashioning an opening before bending a shot just wide, while De Bruyne made a mess of a one-on-one.
The Belgian then blasted a low shot off the post from 25 yards and Aguero turned in the rebound, only for the offside flag to deny him a goal.
Substitute Dwight Gayle was booked for a dive when he threatened to race clear on Ederson’s goal and sent an 89th-minute header wide as Newcastle made late attempts to equalise, but they could not stop City taking another step towards a title triumph that is beginning to look like a foregone conclusion.
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