Manchester City need seven points from their last three games to be sure of the title after a Liverpool-assisted cruise against Newcastle…
Tottenham’s hard-earned and Klopp-annoying point at Anfield on Saturday night looked at the time as if it would be of more importance to Manchester City than Spurs themselves, and Sunday’s 5-0 dismantling of Newcastle proved that point rather neatly.
While Arsenal’s win over Leeds was ultimately unconvincing and needlessly nervy, it means the Gunners can seal a top-four finish with a win at Spurs on Thursday night while a draw will almost certainly be enough and even defeat still leaves things in Arsenal hands. All these things would also have been true had Spurs lost against Liverpool.
But for City, Liverpool’s failure to beat Spurs was a welcome tonic at a difficult time. There were some overthought, dare we say hipsterish suggestions after the events of midweek that City faced the tougher task this weekend. It’s not really 20:20 hindsight to dismiss that as hokum. Spurs were and are better than Newcastle, and the 1-1 draw at Anfield made it eight points from four games against the top two. Newcastle are much better than they were a few months ago, but come on.
City were always likely to win this game, but there were also no guarantees. At the very least, Newcastle’s improvement and City’s latest Champions League catastrof*ck had the potential to make this a tricky and fraught afternoon full of stress and worry. But Liverpool, having maintained absurd standards to pile pressure on City over recent months, finally blinked and released it all. City, with a renewed spring in the step, enjoyed the strolliest of strolls to victory. A fine result for the plucky battlers against a club whose wealth so dwarves their own but who were handed another reminder here of a) just how tough the top of English football is to crack right now and b) how very, very far they have to travel.
The rejuvenated mood around the Etihad was summed up by Jamie Redknapp’s description in the Sky studio of a chipper Micah Richards: “Couldn’t get hold of him for two days, and now he’s come bouncing in today singing Blue Moon.” We’re big fans of Richards, but his allegiance is rarely less than obvious – not least in a bizarre insistence in the build-up here that City’s collapse on Wednesday night was “horrible for all fans”. Won’t somebody please think of the coefficient!
But his mood was replicated throughout team, fans and manager. This was one of those apparently effortlessly precise and effective City displays that it’s hard to find something new to say about it. Yes, there are days when they badly miss a Proper Striker but there are also days when it looks like the least important thing in the entire world. Better teams than Newcastle have been on the wrong end of those, and the two goals in stoppage time today don’t undo the damage caused by the late goals on Wednesday but they did give a more accurate reflection on how this game went than a mere 3-0 would have done. It also took City’s goal difference beyond Liverpool’s to provide an additional potential safety net they seem vanishingly unlikely to need. Seven points from three games against Wolves, West Ham and Villa and the job will be done. Nobody will give them much credit for it, of course, and the talk will all be of Liverpool failing to do the Quadruple.
It was ever thus. City just aren’t the same draw as Liverpool and are never going to be. This 5-0 win was so routine, so facile, that we’ve spent most of it talking about the impact of the points dropped by Liverpool the night before. But they are an extraordinary side. Kevin De Bruyne was at his most Kevin De Bruyne here, and it was an encouraging afternoon for Jack Grealish after his own disappointments across the season and specifically on Wednesday. City are now on the brink of a fourth title in five years, an extraordinary achievement given they have been up against arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever team for much of that time.
As for Newcastle, the obvious question hangs over days like this: how long will it take them to match (exceed?) City’s achievements if they can do so at all? They have clearly taken significant early steps on the road in 2022 after a disastrous 2021, but the first project for next season is going to be improving results against the division’s better teams.
They’ve taken 32 points from 17 games this year, which is potentially Champions League form across an entire campaign, but against those currently in that equation it’s been a different story. The Magpies have played four of the top five this year and lost all four games by a combined aggregate score of 12-1. They get a fifth and final chance against Arsenal a week on Monday.