In an hard-fought evening of football, Manchester City beat Newcastle 0-2 at St. James’ Park.
The win was City’s first in the north-east since 2017 and sends them through to a semi-final against Arsenal. It was a massive victory, especially when set against Manchester City’s recent travails.
Pep Guardiola’s side have been magical to watch over the last few years, unquestionably the best footballing side in the country and perhaps even the continent prior to this season’s defensive collapses.
Those collapses have always been there, to a degree, but have really snowballed this season and left them trailing Liverpool by 23 points in the league. In fact it was two hysterical defensive errors that saw Chelsea beat City in the match that crowned Liverpool champions.
But those weaknesses have always been there, and one of the great exploiters of them has been Newcastle United. Back in 2018/19 the Magpies staggered an in-form City in January by beating them 2-1, and earlier this season they twice came from behind to end up drawing 2-2 with City, keeping Guardiola’s men way down the table in third.
Every single outfield player for Man City either attempted or set up a shot in the first half against Newcastle.
Sharing the load. pic.twitter.com/mjGquEPHDM
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 28, 2020
So whilst many looked at this tie against Newcastle as a procession, Guardiola would have known it would be anything but. City dominated the game, of course they did. They had gaudy possession numbers, of course they did. City had players who passed the ball more than Newcastle did as a team, of course they did.
But none of that was going to guarantee their victory, just as it didn’t the last two times they visited the north-east. No matter how good their football was (and it was supreme) they weren’t guaranteed to score, let alone win. City would have to find a way to break down the mass-ranked of Newcastle shirts in front of the goal.
In the end Newcastle helped them out, with Fabian Schar needlessly pushing Gabriel Jesus in the back as Kyle Walker’s booming cross came into the area. Jesus hit the deck and the referee gave the penalty. Kevin de Bruyne dispatched it, 0-1.
But City didn’t threaten enough in open play. They had so much of the ball but their only goal of the first-half was from the spot and they had just five shots on target besides that spot-kick at the break. So Guardiola would have been worried. And then Newcastle actually attacked with a bit more ambition in the second-half, and Guardiola could be seen deep in conversation with assistant Juanma Lillo on the bench.
Then it happened, the moment Guardiola would have dreaded. Nico Otamendi first gave the ball away and then lost his man, Allan Saint-Maximin sent the cross in, Nico Otamendi fell over and Dwight Gayle was right there to… miss. The striker skied a chance with the net gaping. A colossal miss because you could have easily seen City buckle had Newcastle manage to equalise (as they had done in their two previous visits).
Raheem Sterling's record across all competitions in the last three seasons:
2017/18: 46 games, 23 goals
2018/19: 51 games, 25 games
2019/20: 42 games, 22 goals
Chasing a personal best. pic.twitter.com/4aa6UW1XCR
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 28, 2020
City then finally showed their mettle moments later, with a sublime pass from Ederson finding Phil Foden who fed Raheem Sterling. The Englishman was notably profligate against Chelsea midweek but he advanced towards the Newcastle goal and let fly with a superb shot that curved swiftly into the back of the net, 0-2.
Now City had the edge, and they did coast to victory after that. So whilst one could look at this game as an example of City reasserting themselves after their midweek slip-up, Guardiola will know they have real problems and, had Dwight Gayle taken his chance, the game could have turned out very differently.
City are good, you’d back them to win the FA Cup especially as they face Arsenal in the semi-final. They are a work of footballing art, but their rickety defence is a stain on Guardiola’s fabulous footballing canvas. If they want to get themselves back up to their level from the last two seasons, the level Liverpool currently occupy, then as well as keeping their attacking purring they need to remember how to defend again.