Manchester City remain in search of the relentlessness of their title triumphs under Pep Guardiola but this scrappy win still moves them into fifth.
Missing is a killer touch before goal, with Sergio Agüero being nursed back to full fitness. Newcastle were routed here last season and would have been again if Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling, in particular, had been cooler-eyed finishers.
If there was profligacy in front of goal, Guardiola was effusive about the tempo. “This was the best game of the season for players being in the position they have to be in – our football has to be in the right rhythm and today was a big example,” he said.
Kyle Walker’s positive coronavirus test enforced Guardiola to draft in Nathan Aké, his sole change from last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Southampton, while Steve Bruce hoped for a far better display than the one that led to Newcastle being knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Brentford in midweek.
The contest kicked off in driving rain and as is often the case City soon struck with terrifying pace. Kevin De Bruyne rolled a pass to João Cancelo, whose perfectly measured ball had Sterling in before a wall of zebra-striped shirts. The No 7 tapped sideways to Ilkay Gündogan and he smashed home from close range.
This had taken 14 minutes. In last season’s 5-0 hammering in the corresponding fixture, City’s opener came after 10 minutes: here was an unwanted similarity that might augur badly for Bruce’s men and when De Bruyne floated a cross-shot at goal moments later Karl Darlow had to scramble to keep out a second.
City were in muscular mode. Torres, at centre-forward with Gabriel Jesus a Covid-enforced absence, received from Aké deep inside his half and ran 70 yards, only his tame shot saving Newcastle.
Yet despite the lead, Guardiola was unhappy. John Stones and Rodri were given a vocal volley for below-par passes. Torres’s hooked ball that had De Bruyne sprinting clear was received better by the Catalan but the Belgian’s dilly-dallying before a poor effort that Darlow repelled was, again, greeted unfavourably.
As the break approached Sterling’s close-range shot did trouble Darlow and presaged the first of two City corners. But Newcastle ended the half with three of their own: the middle one of these had City in disarray and Bruce’s men wandered off at the interval still in the game.
A miscontrol by De Bruyne that ceded possession early in the second half suggested City were still not quite as slick as they like to be. Rúben Dias’s pass straight to Jacob Murphy reinforced the impression and further disjointedness ensued when De Bruyne’s free-kick was headed across goal by Stones when the defender should have aimed beyond Darlow.
Newcastle’s vague gameplan to cling on and somehow nick an equaliser was underlined by a Joelinton snapshot after 51 minutes that was their first on target. Their strategy appeared in tatters when a Cancelo cross was steered by Federico Fernández into Torres’s path and he made no mistake to make it 2-0. So it proved.
It was nearly 3-0 when Bernardo Silva hit Darlow’s left post, though Sterling should have scored with an attempt he miskicked that eventually went to the Portuguese.
City looked to have a third from Agüero, on as a late replacement for Torres, only for Darlow to repel at point-blank range from the No 10.
Bruce said: “The best side won but it was a decent performance and that was good news.”