This is the harsh reality for Newcastle United – and the club's prospective owners
Let’s hope Allan Saint-Maximin has had a good rest – as this team just isn’t the same without him.
This was a game too far for Newcastle United.
Manchester City barely got out of second gear, but they still cruised to a 5-0 win at the Etihad Stadium to end a six-game unbeaten run in the Premier League.
There’s been a lot to admire about the way United have tackled the restart, but this game, and the FA Cup defeat to City, have underlined just how far behind the elite United find themselves as the Premier League consider a £300million takeover.
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Steve Bruce, Newcastle’s head coach had a long chat with Pep Guardiola before the game. Two managers. Two very different sets of problems.
In his pre-match press conference, Guardiola had praised his counterpart at United for the “incredible job” he had done since linking up with his new team in China last summer.
That’s not a view which is shared by every Newcastle fan despite the club’s position, and this behind-closed-doors defeat will have made uncomfortable viewing on Tyneside.
The sprawling Etihad Campus around the stadium was eerily quiet for a matchday, but no less impressive. The 2008 sale of City to Sheikh Mansour – who was briefly interested in Newcastle – has transformed the club on and off the pitch.
United fans have high hopes for the takeover led by Amanda Staveley and funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Yet today, three months after paperwork was submitted to the Premier League, supporters are still waiting for a decision, with their club having seemingly dragged into a geopolitical dispute in the Middle East.
The return of football, at least, has been a distraction. Bruce rested Saint-Maximin – the winger was “struggling” after starting five games in 15 days – and in total he made six changes to his team.
Curiously, Bruce, without Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff, picked defender Fabian Schar in midfield ahead of Matty Longstaff, a player he’s been trying to persuade to stay at the club.
Bruce, using the same formation he had deployed against West Ham United and Bournemouth, also fielded stand-in captain Jonjo Shelvey as a No.10 behind Joelinton, his lone striker. Joelinton, however, saw very little of the ball.
City dominated possession in the first few minutes, and their first goal wasn’t long in coming. They broke down the left, and David Silva pulled the ball back for Gabriel Jesus, who scored at the far post from seven yards.
It got worse for United, who conceded a similar goal in the 21st minute. Kevin De Bruyne pulled the ball back for Riyad Mahrez, who tucked it home.
Newcastle were awful defensively for the two goals, and, hemmed in by City, they rarely broke upfield. They were also weak in midfield, where Schar and Nabil Bentaleb had a forgettable evening.
Bruce, however, sent out an unchanged team for the second half, and a Matt Ritchie clearance went in off Federico Fernandez as the hour-mark approached. David Silva made it 4-0 with a free-kick. Raheem Sterling added a fifth to cap a miserable visit to the Etihad Stadium.