Pep Guardiola finds Man City balance in unexpected substitution – Simon Bajkowski

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Goal difference bonus

The three points were enough to take Manchester City back ahead of Liverpool in the table. The five goals were the icing on a cake that must taste a lot better than it did on Wednesday night.

Following all the emotions of their Champions League defeat, the best thing that could have happened came at Anfield on Saturday night when Tottenham frustrated Jurgen Klopp and his side. A 1-1 draw meant that the defending champions knew going into their match with Newcastle that they could end the weekend three points ahead with three games to go.

Not only did City manage it, but they also moved clear on goal difference as well. Their winning margin of five takes them four goals ahead of Liverpool, meaning that even if they lose one of their final three matches there is no guarantee they will be knocked off top spot.

ALSO READ: City overturn Liverpool goals advantage in title race surges to the top

Fernandinho value endures

Since announcing in a press conference that he would be off at the end of the season because he wants more playing time, Fernandinho has since played seven of the subsequent eight games. That may say more about the injury situation in the squad-he replaced Ruben Dias here at half-time, while John Stones remains sidelined-but does show his enduring value of him.

Guardiola could have turned to Nathan Ake or Luke Mbete on the bench, both natural centre-backs. However, as well as Ake not being fully fit they are both left-footers and the manager’s preference for balance, especially after an untidy first half, probably pushed it in Fernandinho’s favour.

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dodgy defending

It turns out that City do not save their dodgy defensive performances for Champions League knockout ties. Newcastle took the game to the Blues and came close to getting their rewards as the home side creaked.

Chris Wood headed straight at Ederson from six yards out after being left unmarked, and then Bruno Guimaraes managed the double-whammy of blocking a goalbound header from Jamaal Lascelles while being stood in an unmarked position. From the resulting free-kick, Ruben Dias nearly gave the ball away in his own box after a heavy touch.

Guardiola can seem unfair when he says that his players are not individually good defenders, but there have certainly been some wobbly performances since the back four in recent weeks. Joao Cancelo will be very happy not to have to mark Allan Saint-Maximin again any time soon.

Fans lift the team

Newcastle are known for their hearty support but their cries at the start of this match could not match the reception that the home fans – and particularly the South Stand – gave to the Blues. With no shortage of the luminous yellow shirts from the 1998/99 season on display, the supporters made sure Guardiola and his players had a noisy backing.

The manager had called on the supporters to lift the team after Wednesday’s heartache and that is exactly what happened.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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