Four days after they stumbled in Madrid, Manchester City dusted themselves down and took a major stride towards retaining the Premier League title with the type of comprehensive home victory that has become their trademark.
Sunday’s 5-0 victory over Newcastle United put City three points clear of title rivals Liverpool at the top of the table, with three rounds of fixtures to play. It also provided the perfect response to what manager Pep Guardiola let on he felt had been an outpouring of unjustified criticism following their Champions League capitulation on Wednesday.
“Some people doubt because they still don’t know what this team is able to do,” Guardiola told Sky Sports. “It’s not one afternoon or night [on which they should be judged]. It’s every three days for five years. It’s one of the best groups I ever trained in my life.”
Questions about City’s resilience had been valid in the wake of their midweek collapse in Spain, however, and Guardiola admitted the team had been through “two tough days” since. Had they failed to extend their Premier League lead after Liverpool dropped points against Tottenham on Saturday, the recriminations would only have grown louder.
If Wednesday was a dud of a display, this was the City production line getting back up to speed and delivering another flawless win. Raheem Sterling bookended the afternoon with two goals, while Aymeric Laporte, Rodri and Phil Foden also scored.
Newcastle fans sang “We’re richer than you” at the home faithful and in time last year’s takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund may see them rival City for the top prizes. They offered little evidence here to suggest it will be next season, however.
City’s win may diminish the tension in the title race but it does throw up one intriguing possibility. If they were to stumble again by losing one of their last three games and Liverpool take maximum points, the two clubs’ tallies of goals scored and conceded are close enough that we could see a dead heat and, therefore, a play-off to decide the Premier League.