Manchester City secured their customary home win over Newcastle as Ilkay Gundogan and Ferran Torres scored the goals that moved them up to fifth in the Premier League.
The triumph was City’s 12th in a row in this particular fixture.
And the margin of victory could have been far more as Newcastle keeper Karl Darlow produced two excellent first-half saves to deny Kevin de Bruyne, then an even better one to repel a close range shot from substitute Sergio Aguero near the end.
In addition, John Stones and Raheem Sterling both wasted glorious chances after the break and Bernardo Silva hit a post from an acute angle.
However, City had far too much for their visitors and after a difficult start to the season have now moved into a position from which they can mount a title challenge, having previously only been in the top five for a paltry one day and five hours all season.
For Newcastle, it felt like an exercise in damage limitation on a grim night weather-wise.
The Magpies had 24% possession and just two shots on target as manager Steve Bruce opted not to risk top scorer Callum Wilson at the end of a difficult 10 days which has seen his team collect a single point from three league games and exit the Carabao Cup at the hands of Championship outfit Brentford.
Torres the star striker
Although both sides lost two players to coronavirus related issues, the damage to Newcastle caused by the loss of Allan Saint-Maximin and captain Jamaal Lascelles was far more significant than that inflicted on City by the positive tests for Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus revealed on Christmas Day.
Even without Jesus, Pep Guardiola could afford to leave Sergio Aguero on the bench as the City boss preferring to use Torres in the centre-forward role instead.
The decision was vindicated, both by the result and Torres’ seventh goal of the season.
It was not the hardest of finishes. Federico Fernandez slid in to block Joao Cancelo’s low cross but succeeded only in providing Torres with a clear sight of goal from eight yards.
That goal doubled the advantage given to City by Gundogan, who capitalised on Raheem Sterling’s 14th-minute cut-back.
Remarkably, the goal allowed City to equal the Premier League record of a side scoring in 24 consecutive games against the same club.
But it may well be of concern to Guardiola that his side failed to increase their tally.
They have still only scored more than twice in a single home game in the Premier League this season, although this was their fourth clean sheet in that run.
Good night for Gundogan
It is coming up for four-and-a-half seasons since City paid Borussia Dortmund £20m for Gundogan.
So keen was Guardiola to have the midfielder in his squad, he pushed the transfer through even though Gundogan had a patchy injury record and would not be fit for the start of his debut campaign.
It would be unfair to say the 30-year-old has failed to deliver.
He was given a new four-year contract in 2019 so Guardiola must be happy with him.
However, the feeling remains he has not quite hit the heights anticipated and, as City come to terms with life without David Silva, the onus is on Gundogan to step up.
Gundogan has never scored more than six goals in a season. Friday night’s effort takes him to four for the current campaign and the intelligent way he found space for Sterling to pick him out in a packed penalty area, then found the net through the narrowest of gaps, hints at someone who can do more.
It also means he has scored in consecutive home games and, in producing a tidy performance in an advanced role alongside De Bruyne – who is yet to score from open play – showed the capability to at least partially fill the void Silva’s departure for Real Sociedad has left.
Forthcoming trips to Everton and Chelsea will offer an indication as to how close to Liverpool, City will get.
For Newcastle fans, the four days to wait for Liverpool’s visit to St James’ Park are unlikely to be filled with much optimism.
‘This season you have to be calm’
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola: “That is the tempo we need to play. Today our positional game was perfect, unfortunately we could not score more goals but it is a good result and three more points.
“We cannot think much, the schedule is a game every three days. The players are committed and focused.
“Last week we were 10th in the table, all the season is up and down. There are weird results for everyone, this season you have to be calm in the good and the bad moments.”
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce: “The attitude was pleasing after a difficult week or so, you always know you will come here against a world-class team and we were beaten by the better side.
“It was a decent performance. The game in midweek has gone, we needed to respond to the criticism and they have done as much as they could. They rolled their sleeves up and had a go.
“You accept mistakes, the one thing I wanted to see was a response from a poor display in midweek and they did that.”
Sterling thriving under Guardiola – the stats
- Manchester City have won their last 12 Premier League home games against Newcastle, scoring 41 goals and conceding just seven.
- Newcastle have lost three of their past four away games in the Premier League (W1), more than they had in their previous eight on the road (W3 D3 L2).
- Manchester City have kept 13 clean sheets in all competitions this season, more than any other team in the top five European leagues.
- Newcastle have lost more Boxing Day games than any other side in Premier League history (15), and have now lost each of their last six league games in a row on this date.
- Raheem Sterling’s assist for City’s opener was his 150th goal involvement in all competitions since Pep Guardiola joined in 2016 – he has scored 96 goals and made 54 assists, more than any other player at the club in that time.
- Manchester City have won all seven games in all competitions in which Ferran Torres has scored for them, with five of his seven strikes coming at the Etihad.
City’s next Premier League game is against second-placed Everton at Goodison Park on Monday, 28 December (20:00GMT). Newcastle’s next game is at home to leaders Liverpool at St James’ Park on Wednesday, 30 December (20:00GMT).
- 3Rúben Dias
- 16RodriBooked at 34minsSubstituted forFernandinhoat 57′minutes
- 27CanceloBooked at 88mins
- 8GündoganSubstituted forFodenat 90+1′minutes
- 17De Bruyne
- 21TorresSubstituted forAgüeroat 77′minutes
- 20Bernardo Silva
- 5SchärBooked at 80mins
- 11RitchieBooked at 64minsSubstituted forLewisat 66′minutes
- 4M Longstaff
- 24AlmirónSubstituted forGayleat 82′minutes
- 9JoelintonSubstituted forCarrollat 71′minutes
- 13C Wilson
- 36S Longstaff
- Andre Marriner
Match ends, Manchester City 2, Newcastle United 0.
Second Half ends, Manchester City 2, Newcastle United 0.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United).
Substitution, Manchester City. Phil Foden replaces Ilkay Gündogan.
Offside, Newcastle United. Andy Carroll tries a through ball, but Dwight Gayle is caught offside.
João Cancelo (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by João Cancelo (Manchester City).
Andy Carroll (Newcastle United) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt blocked. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
VAR Decision: No Penalty Manchester City.
Substitution, Newcastle United. Dwight Gayle replaces Miguel Almirón.
Attempt saved. Sergio Agüero (Manchester City) right footed shot from very close range is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by João Cancelo.
Fabian Schär (Newcastle United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Fabian Schär (Newcastle United).
Attempt missed. Andy Carroll (Newcastle United) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Matthew Longstaff with a cross.
Attempt saved. Jacob Murphy (Newcastle United) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by DeAndre Yedlin.
Substitution, Manchester City. Sergio Agüero replaces Ferran Torres.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the left wing.