Don’t mention the Bernabéu. The travelling Newcastle supporters did so, although it felt as though they got away with it.
For Manchester City, this was all about trying to move on. The wounds from their Champions League semi‑final horror show at Real Madrid last Wednesday, when they surrendered a two-goal aggregate lead in stoppage time before going out in extra time, may never entirely heal.
It is about learning to live with them, about stepping into a new reality and it is one that Pep Guardiola intends to gild with a fourth Premier League title in five seasons. The competition remains the truest measure of a team over the course of a season and, if City could pull it off again then how could they feel hollow? Right?
City had caught a break from the Fates on Saturday when Liverpool were held to a draw by Tottenham at Anfield. Not too many people had seen that result coming. It meant City had the room for one draw in their run-in but nobody at the club wanted anything other than victory here.
Inspired by Kevin De Bruyne, they got it with the bonus coming at the end – two goals after the 90th minute that they could enjoy this time. They were scored by the substitute Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling, taking the club’s goal difference to plus 68 – four better than that of Liverpool.
Sterling had opened the scoring, with Aymeric Laporte benefitting from a handling error by Newcastle’s goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka, for 2-0 before half-time. Rodri got the third and Guardiola can now focus on three final challenges – Wolves and West Ham away; Aston Villa at home.
One defeat and City could still blow it and Guardiola made the point that he was down to the bare bones in defence. Rúben Dias was forced off with a hamstring injury and Guardiola said he would miss the remaining matches, as will Kyle Walker and John Stones, who were absent here.
If anything can happen in a matter of seconds, Guardiola continued – with reference to the Bernabéu – then the same had to be true over three matches. It is a long way from being over. And yet there is no doubt that he and his players can feel a lot better about themselves.
City had warmed up in No 10 shirts, Agüeroooo written above the numbers – a nod towards the looming 10-year celebration of the most famous moment in the club’s history. But this was about writing a new chapter. And, after a few nerves at the outset, City imposed their quality – nobody more so than De Bruyne.
Newcastle had started aggressively and they created the first big chance. When Allan Saint-Maximin crossed from the right, Chris Wood was all alone for the header. He directed it wastefully at Ederson.
It was easy to wonder what would have happened had Wood scored, and City’s sights did look awry in the early running, Laporte and João Cancelo snatching at presentable opportunities following deliveries from De Bruyne.
The breakthrough goal settled them and it was created by Ilkay Gündogan, whose clipped cross to the far post was made to measure for the run of Cancelo. Newcastle failed to track him and, when he headed square, Sterling nodded home.
Newcastle flickered again in the 24th minute when Jamal Lascelles headed a corner goalwards and watched the ball hit Bruno Guimarães, who was offside. Wood rammed the loose ball past Ederson but the flag went up against Guimarães.
City turned the screw, with De Bruyne in one of those moods when he injects pace and purpose with his every involvement. He drove with the ball at his feet, leaving black‑and‑white shirts in his wake, while his passing was the classic mix of fizz and precision.
City had chances before the interval. Sterling beat Matt Targett to usher in Cancelo, who was denied by Dubravka at the near post while De Bruyne, twice, and Oleksandr Zinchenko almost connected with Gabriel Jesus in front of goal.
City’s second was a disaster for Dubravka. He could not hold a Gündogan volley from the edge of the area after a De Bruyne corner and, although it came to him through a crowd, he had to do better. He almost redeemed himself by clawing the loose ball away from Dias but it broke to Laporte who had a tap-in.
Two goals up and in control. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, as it turned out. City set the tone for the sleeper hold that they put on the second-half by gorging on 99% of the possession in the opening eight minutes. And they made sure of the result on the hour when Rodri ran towards the near post and away from his markers to flick in De Bruyne’s corner. For Newcastle, it was a second set-piece concession and a soft one, at that. As Eddie Howe noted, City do not need presents.
The Newcastle manager introduced Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier after lengthy injury lay-offs and both looked rusty. Wilson missed a one-on-one with Ederson in the 83rd minute and Trippier was outpaced by Jack Grealish on the fourth City goal. When Grealish pulled back, Zinchenko’s scuffed shot was turned home by Foden.
Zinchenko had extended Dubravka on 67 minutes and City served up their best at the last. Grealish again made up ground on the left and, after getting a lovely flick back from Foden, he ushered in Sterling, who fired home.