Sports

Brilliant Kevin de Bruyne breaks Newcastle hearts and sends title warning to Man City rivals

There were bear hugs and a beeline for match winner Oscar Bobb, which told you everything you needed to know.
This was no ordinary win for Manchester City, more the sort of victory that shapes seasons and sickens Premier League title pretenders. For so long on a titanic night on Tyneside it looked as if three points would elude them but then came Kevin de Bruyne. He is inevitable, which is how a fourth successive title is starting to feel to everyone outside Merseyside.
That last quarter of an hour felt significant. Before then City had done what City do, worked the angles, pushed their opponents into a corner and pummelled away. But Newcastle – notwithstanding an inspired contribution from Martin Dubravka – looked fairly comfortable with it.
When De Bruyne entered the arena it changed. Newcastle’s midfield visibly retreated as the Belgian advanced and it took him only four minutes to make it count with a goal of exquisite technique. Then in stoppage time he sprung Newcastle’s defensive line to unleash the precocious Bobb, whose fleet feet bewitched Dubravka and won the game.
It was a goal of rare quality to settle a superb contest. On the sideline Pep Guardiola punched the air and engulfed his assistants. Two changes, two goals and just two points behind leaders Liverpool. They have the aura of champions and it will surely take a herculean effort to keep them at bay.
Newcastle gave as good as they got, especially during an electrifying first half in which they took the lead and reprised the high energy displays of last season. But injuries – they were missing 10 senior players here, including last week’s man of the match Joelinton – have diminished them and deprived Eddie Howe of options.
Guardiola had the second most expensive British player of all time on the bench while Howe had two goalkeepers. He wants Kalvin Phillips, again an unused sub for City, and that sort of player would have made a world of difference as sky blue shirts swarmed in the closing stages.
Now sitting 10th and 11 points off fourth, the Champions League is surely gone and the Europa League is disappearing fast too. They are improved but in danger of being sucked into mid-table. Their FA Cup represents salvation and a possible route into Europe.
They will be thankful that there are no more challenges like City ahead. The champions are starting to whir and their first goal was a thing of beauty, a moment of unalloyed quality punctuating the Tyneside chill. Kyle Walker’s fizzed cross created chaos but Bernardo Silva’s backheeled finish was briliant, spinning it past Dubravka.
Newcastle needed a response and got one through Alexander Isak.
Is it possible to be a £65m bargain? Isak is surely that, a modern forward who manages to marry technical and tactical gifts with old fashioned number nine attributes like power and penalty box poise.
His telling intervention toppled momentum back in favour of the home side and disrupted City’s rhythms and less than 120 seconds later Newcastle were in front.
Again it was Walker’s flank that Newcastle probed as the swung the ball swiftly to Gordon. The England man is one of the best in one on one situations in the world but the Newcastle winger is not short on confidence and cut inside before curling a brilliant finish past Ortega.
After the doubts of December it felt like some of the old certainty was returning to St James’ Park, along with the zip of those in black and white. A week on the training ground, Howe drilling players with no midweek distractions, had given Newcastle renewed focus and intensity. Make no mistake, City once again knew they were in a contest.
But they found a way with a mix of quality and willpower. It is ominous for the rest.

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