Manchester City booked an FA Cup semi-final tie against Arsenal as Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty and Raheem Sterling’s curler helped Pep Guardiola’s side see off Newcastle at St James’ Park.
In a first half defined by the expansive interplay between City’s scorching strike-force and something a little more…agricultural from the Magpies, Steve Bruce’s plan almost came off, before an eagle-eyed Lee Mason spotted Javier Manquillo’s shove on Gabriel Jesus in the penalty area.
Birthday boy De Bruyne duly converted his spot kick, but Newcastle didn’t wilt as expected. Bruce cleverly pushed Fabian Schar into midfield and his side grew into the game, creating a number of chances while Allan Saint-Maximin was more and more involved.
One of these chances, a total gift of a defensive error from Nicolás Otamendi, left substitute Dwight Gayle in front of a gaping goalmouth, but the former Crystal Palace man’s shot from point-blank range missed by such a distance that it’ll probably be fished out of the Tyne later.
With their momentum sapped, it was only a matter of time until Newcastle conceded again, and a touch of class from Sterling put the game beyond all doubt.
Key Talking Point
With rumours circulating over the future of Newcastle United, given the talk of a takeover bankrolled by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Bruce needed to show that he was the man to make history in the north-east.
Newcastle are in the midst of a painful barren run without a domestic trophy which spans 66 years, while 2005 was the last time they reached the FA Cup semi-final stage, and Bruce may have seen the fixture as a huge opportunity to impress his potential future employers.
In a way, you have to feel sorry for the boyhood Newcastle fan – sitting deep and hitting it long to Andy Carroll was frustrating the Citizens until Manquillo’s error, with the likes of Sean Longstaff, Jamaal Lascelles and Danny Rose throwing themselves at every loose ball.
Bruce adapted well in the second half too, managing to free up the flanks and apply pressure to City’s defenders, enough to force an opening that Gayle really should have taken advantage of.
Starting XI: Darlow (6); Manquillo (4), Schaer (6), Lascelles (6), Fernandez (5), Rose (6); Almiron (5), Hayden (5), S. Longstaff (6), Saint-Maximin (7*); Carroll (6).
Substitutes: Joelinton (5), Gayle (4), Yedlin (N/A), Lazaro (N/A), M. Longstaff (N/A).
90% of Newcastle’s gate receipts should go straight to this man at the moment, because he is almost worth the price of admission on his own. Although obviously no teams in England are making much from gate receipts at the moment.
Newcastle would have been worried at how quiet he looked in the first half, with the Frenchman seemingly nervous as his touch let him down on multiple occasions, while he couldn’t escape Kyle Walker’s attentions.
The second half saw him switch to the right and play with much more confidence as Newcastle decided to actually string some passes together, and his proactive, dynamic style of play saw him capitalise on Otamendi’s mistake to whip in a perfect cross for Gayle. Suffice to say, he can’t have been too happy with what happened directly afterwards.
You might have missed it, but there was a little bit of a party in Liverpool this week after City’s loss at Chelsea – and no, they weren’t celebrating Christian Pulisic finally finding his feet in the Premier League.
All eyes were on this game to see just how City would react to Liverpool’s first title of the Premier League era. We have seen some mental implosions from Guardiola’s men before, but could they put old struggles aside to finish the season strongly?
The answer was absolutely – from the get-go City were the superior side, with Riyad Mahrez, Sterling and David Silva fizzing the ball around the penalty box especially in the first half, with De Bruyne his usual excellent self.
They seemed so nonplussed by their midweek setback that Otamendi even found time to fit in a customary blunder. If things get back to business as usual at Manchester City, then the Premier League is going to be very interesting next season.
Starting XI: Bravo (6); Walker (7), Otamendi (5), Laporte (7), Mendy (6); D. Silva (8), Gundogan (6), De Bruyne (8); Mahrez (8), Jesus (6), Sterling (8*).
Substitutes: B. Silva (7), Foden (7), Rodri (N/A), Cancelo (N/A).
There’s been a lot of focus on De Bruyne’s brilliance and the excellent season Mahrez is having this year, but Sterling is starting to quietly gather some steam ahead of City’s Champions League charge.
Sunday’s finish proved too much for Karl Darlow, and it was no more than Sterling’s hard work deserved. The Englishman made up for a disappointing outing from Jesus by making himself an option in the box, combining excellently with Silva and De Bruyne throughout.
Newcastle can as good as ensure their Premier League survival with a win against 18th-placed Bournemouth on Wednesday, before facing yet another relegation candidate in the shape of West Ham.
City welcoming none other than the Premier League’s newly-crowned champions Liverpool on Thursday, with Guardiola agreeing to the ultimate ignominy of a guard of honour for Jurgen Klopp’s men. After that, it’s an away trip to Southampton, where Danny Ings is in the form of his life.