MANCHESTER: A five-goal show from scintillating Manchester City ensured Pep Guardiola’s men took total control of the battle to win the Premier League title — and gave Newcastle United and Eddie Howe yet more food for thought.
Raheem Sterling netted the opener and the last goal of the day as one apiece from Aymeric Laporte, Rodri and Phil Foden secured all three points and put the pain of Madrid and City’s Champions League exit behind them.
And while it did not always feel like a hammering for the Magpies, a late defensive collapse, after relentless home pressure, proved just how many levels the Abu Dhabi-funded side remain above the affluent but static Saudi-backed Magpies.
Howe made three changes to the Newcastle side who struggled to lay a glove on Liverpool last week.
Club captain Jamaal Lascelles, Sean Longstaff and Chris Wood were all restored to the XI, with Fabian Schar dropped to the bench after a knock and Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Willock absent from the squad altogether.
United looked anything but overawed in the early stages as they matched the home side’s intensity. Moving the ball well, finding the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin in pockets of space and working the flanks, the Magpies looked a threat.
However, against a side of City’s quality, it only takes a second for the game to flip on its head.
And it did on 19 minutes as Saint-Maximin, on for his attacking prowess, failed to track a deep run from Joao Cancelo, and his header back was perfectly guided on to the head of Sterling.
Wood, back after a two game absence, then had a moment to forget as Newcastle looked to restore parity.
A jinking move from Saint-Maximin on the right saw the Frenchman dig out a searching cross and Wood, free in the area, had the simplest of finishes with his head to level things up. But, as has so often been the case since his January switch from Burnley, his weak header lacked conviction and floated into the hands of Ederson.
Chances come few and far between in encounters like this for visiting sides — and when they do present themselves, you really have to take them.
A Matt Targett corner was nodded back across goal by Lascelles and the goal-bound effort was destined for the bottom corner only to deflect off Bruno Guimaraes and into the path of Wood, who this time did not miss — but United were denied by the offside flag.
Laporte then made the visitors regret it from a well-worked corner routine from right to left aimed at Ilkay Gundogan; the German’s volley was spilled by Martin Dubravka, only for Laporte to turn in from close range.
Having held their own in the opening 45 minutes, in patches, it was one-way traffic in the second half.
Jack Grealish found space galore down the left, so too Kevin De Bruyne through the middle, with the Belgian in fine, free-flowing form. It was he who crafted City’s third with a low corner into the box, and Rodri rose highest to send the home crowd wild.
The return of Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier gave Newcastle a welcome boost off the bench, having not seen either in the same team yet this campaign, but the latter showed his rustiness as he was shown a clean set of heels by Grealish, opening up an opportunity for Foden to clip past Dubravka as the game ran away from the Magpies.
In added time it was five, as Sterling floated into space on the left of the Newcastle backline for the final act of the afternoon.
Newcastle’s season would never be judged on their results against the very top sides of the division — however, it will not be too long before it is.
What today proved, much like last week against Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, is that the gap to close between Newcastle and the summit of the English game is vast — and as Howe has made clear, it cannot be bridged overnight.