Foden’s return to form helps mask De Bruyne’s troubles

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City kept up the pressure on Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table with a 2-0 win over Newcastle United at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Phil Foden and substitute Bernardo Silva scored in each half to give the scoreline a comfortable look but Newcastle had their chances, particularly though Anthony Gordon, who made his full debut following his January move from Everton, as well as Sean Longstaff and Joelinton.

It’s now five games without a win in all competitions for Newcastle, while City extend their unbeaten run to seven.

Rapid reaction

1. Foden continues good form

Foden has been made to wait for regular games since the World Cup but, back in the team, he has found some form. His goal against Newcastle was Foden at his best; picking up the ball in the space on the right, driving past Joelinton and Gordon into the penalty area and scoring via deflection off Sven Botman. It was pace, strength and close control all crammed into 10 seconds.

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We’re at the point of the season when Guardiola begins to think about which players are going to start City’s big UEFA Champions League knockout games and Foden is making a good case for himself. Having admitted he was struggling with a foot problem since Christmas, it’s now four goals in his last three games — including two in two in the Premier League.

Erling Haaland is sure to start the big games and Jack Grealish has done well enough recently to warrant a regular place, as well. That leaves one place in Guardiola’s traditional front three for either Foden or Riyad Mahrez. Foden got the nod against Newcastle and made the most of his chance to impress.

2. De Bruyne isn’t undroppable anymore

There was a time when Guardiola wouldn’t dream of picking a team without Kevin De Bruyne but it looks like those days are coming to an end. The Belgian was left on the bench for the 1-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in February and when he wasn’t able to travel to the Champions League tie at RB Leipzig because of illness, it wasn’t the drama it might once have been.

De Bruyne didn’t have a good game against Newcastle and with Eddie Howe’s team starting to get on top early in the second half, Guardiola’s first change was to replace the 31-year-old with Bernardo. The difference was almost immediate. Bernardo’s first involvement was to chase down a lost ball and force Nick Pope into a poor kick. A matter of seconds later, the ball was worked back to the Portuguese midfielder through Nathan Ake, Grealish and Haaland to give Bernardo the chance to score City’s second goal and kill the game.

De Bruyne is still a very good player — he showed it with a goal in the win at Arsenal — but he’s not the first name on the team sheet and Guardiola’s decisions between now and the end of the season might prove it.

3. Newcastle’s season in danger of falling flat

“Went to Wembley, and f—ed it up,” sang the City fans at the travelling supporters from Newcastle but defeat to Manchester United in the Carabao Cup final won’t be the biggest disappointment this season if their form doesn’t improve.

Newcastle’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League were never going to hinge on the result at the Etihad but it’s now just one win in the league since Boxing Day — a 1-0 victory over Fulham thanks to a last-minute winner after Aleksandar Mitrovic had failed to convert a penalty for the Cottagers.

Having spent the bulk of the season in third, Newcastle have slipped down to fifth in the table and have Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool breathing down their necks as the Reds begin to recover from a disastrous first half of the campaign.

You could argue that, having flirted with relegation last season, Newcastle have already taken a big step forward but there was an opportunity to be grabbed with Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham all struggling for consistency. Securing European football would mean a good season still ends on a high but Newcastle need to find a win from somewhere soon to get momentum moving in the right direction.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Bernardo Silva, MF, Man City: Came on in the 65th minute and two minutes later made the result safe with City’s second goal.

BEST: Nathan Ake, DF, Man City: Involved in Bernardo’s goal and made a fantastic block to deny Longstaff a certain goal.

BEST: Ilkay Gundogan, MF, Man City: Kept the ball moving seamlessly in midfield. City are going to miss him if he goes in the summer when his contract expires.

WORST: Joelinton, MF, Newcastle: Missed the ball completely when presented with a golden chance to equalise in the second half.

WORST: Kevin De Bruyne, MF, Man City: It was a bad day for the Belgian and it was no surprise when he was substituted early in the second half.

WORST: Callum Wilson, ST, Newcastle: Newcastle have scored a league-low three goals in 2023 and Wilson never looked like changing that.

Highlights and notable moments

After the match: What the managers and players said

Guardiola, speaking to BT Sport: “Bernardo [Silva] had the ability to help us have long possessions or make the possessions longer. He had the ability to keep the ball and make the extra pass because in that moment the game was broken.

“It was better for Newcastle. We didn’t want the game in transitions so that’s why Bernardo was the idea. It works and we won so it’s perfect.

“The game started and they were better, we struggled to build up, we made some changes during the first half and after the brilliant action from Phil [Foden], we had the game in our hands, we didn’t suffer.

“The first minutes of the second half were good but then we lost the game and Bernardo helped us to come back. Their threat is not a surprise, there is a reason why they were in the Carabao Cup final and for a lot of minutes they were better than United.

“This team and this club in the next few years will be a threat for the title.”

Howe: “I thought we were well in the game today. It was a similar performance to last week where we were good in the game, very dynamic in our play, aggressive, good with the ball, hurt them at times but couldn’t put that final piece together.

“Our plan was to come here and attack and to try and give our all physically and then give an opportunity to new players coming onto the pitch to do the same. Probably the one that sticks in my head is Joelinton’s chance at 1-0. They’re big moments and when you play games like this you have to be clinical.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– At 22 years and 280 days, Foden (33 goals, 17 assists) becomes the youngest player to reach 50 Premier League goal involvements for Manchester City.

– Bernardo’s goal for Man City was their 1,000th Premier League home goal, the sixth team to reach the milestone in the competition (160 at Maine Road, 840 at the Etihad).

– Newcastle have only scored three Premier League goals in 2022 — the lowest total in the division.

Up next

Manchester City: Guardiola’s men will have a week to recover before making the trip to London to face Crystal Palace next Saturday. They then take on RB Leipzig at the Etihad on Tuesday, March 14, in the second leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie (first leg 1-1), before hosting Burnley in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, March 18.

Newcastle United: The Magpies’ bid for Champions League football badly needs reenergizing, and they will host Wolverhampton Wanderers on March 12. A home victory is a must if they are to get their campaign back on track. They finish up before the international break with a trip to Nottingham Forest on Friday, March 17.

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