Manchester City celebrate 10-year anniversary with victory over Newcastle
It always promised to be a happy anniversary for Manchester City and so it proved. Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker marked the 10th anniversary of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed’s ownership with milestones of their own and if Newcastle United were awkward, unhelpful guests at City’s party, they nevertheless departed defeated.
Pep Guardiola’s team have not gone two league games without winning for 15 months and, after dropping points at Wolves last week, they extended that record. If they were not at their slickest, and perhaps showed signs of missing the catalytic Kevin de Bruyne, they were nevertheless rewarded for their persistence in a match where, predictably, they did the vast majority of the attacking.
Yet City began by paying tribute to a defender. There was a pre-match presentation to Vincent Kompany, marking his own decade at the Etihad Stadium, with the captain receiving a framed shirt with “10 years” stencilled on the back.
Kompany was confined to a cameo as Guardiola went on the offensive. The Catalan has looked for left-field solutions in his attempt to combat packed defences. On Saturday he did something unconventional for him, in choosing the stereotypical British formation, albeit a 4-4-2 that could become 2-4-4 in possession. He had crammed in more attacking players than usual, a ploy that reaped early benefits as Sterling struck on his 100th league appearance for City.
Jamaal Lascelles gave the ball away, Benjamin Mendy – involved in a sixth goal already this season – found Sterling and he angled a shot into the far corner of the goal. Yet, for all the talent City possess further forward, Saturday underlined why Guardiola puts such an emphasis on attacking full-backs. They were involved in both goals. The ebullient Mendy has been ubiquitous this season. His buccaneering efforts have meant Walker was overshadowed until the Englishman drilled in a shot from 25 yards, the ball clipping the far post on his path into the net. The emphatic celebrations betrayed the fact it was the right-back’s first goal for City.
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Walker’s winner proved necessary as Newcastle had levelled. The half-time statistics showed 11 shots to one, but a goal apiece. City were not clinical enough. Sergio Aguero, the usual scourge of Newcastle, has impressed Guardiola with the improvement in his movement and demonstrated it by materialising between the lines to escape the visitors’ three centre-backs and find Gabriel Jesus, who had a shot saved by Martin Dubravka. If the Brazilian, who had a goal ruled out for offside, had moments of profligacy, Newcastle made him pay.
They struck on their first attack. They had surprisingly equalised after trailing against Chelsea last week. They repeated that feat against City. Salomon Rondon made the most of a seemingly thankless task as a lone striker to centre. DeAndre Yedlin, a full-back who had barely crossed the half-way line, arrived on the edge of the six-yard box to level. But, as they did last week, Newcastle still lost.
If City were taken aback by conceding, they rallied after the interval. It was an indication of their resources that, on a day when Jesus and Riyad Mahrez were underwhelming, others could still deliver. Walker’s was a crisp strike that rendered it all the odder that he had not scored since 2015.
Thereafter, Dubravka made a fine double save to deny Fernandinho and David Silva but Newcastle, who had conceded 22 goals on their previous five league visits to the Etihad, escaped another thrashing as Rafa Benitez embarked on a second successive damage-limitation exercise. Yet they remain winless. The fixture list always threatened to give them a tough start to the season. Once again, a promise has become a reality.