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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom: Pep Guardiola said Manchester City showed the heart of champions to fight back to beat Newcastle 3-2 on Saturday thanks to a Kevin De Bruyne masterclass on his return to Premier League action.
The Belgian came off the bench to score and set up Oscar Bobb’s stoppage-time winner to announce his comeback from a five-month injury layoff in style.
Victory takes City up to second in the table, two points behind Liverpool, and ominously poised to strike when they return from a two-week winter break, by which point Erling Haaland may be fit to join De Bruyne in terrorizing opposition defenses.
“That was really good, sometimes it is better winning that way,” said Guardiola.
“We played with a huge personality. They showed me they want to be there, to fight until the end that they want to retain the title.”
A cruel late twist for Newcastle saw Eddie Howe’s men succumb to a sixth defeat in their last seven Premier League games.
But a point would have been more than Newcastle deserved after being thoroughly outplayed but for two goals in two first-half minutes that threatened to frustrate the champions.
“Their quality told in the end. De Bruyne is obviously a world-class player,” said Howe, who was publicly backed by the club’s chief executive Darren Eales this week.
“There’s not a lot wrong with our performances. You can see today we are a top team. The group is in a good place, I don’t see any negativity. I see hurt because we aren’t winning and that’s what we’re here to do.”
A frantic encounter got off to a disrupted start as City goalkeeper Ederson was forced off injured in his attempt to stop Sean Longstaff putting the ball into the net.
The goal was ruled out as Alexander Isak was clearly offside in the build-up and City were furious the flag was not raised earlier to prevent any damage being done to the Brazilian.
Guardiola’s men dominated for the opening half-hour but lacked the poise of De Bruyne or presence of Haaland up front to turn their possession into a cutting edge.
When City did break the deadlock, it took a moment of brilliance from Bernardo Silva.
The Portuguese backheeled Kyle Walker’s low cross into the far corner on 26 minutes.
Moments later only a brilliant save from Martin Dubravka turned another sweet strike from Silva onto the post.
However, the match was transformed in a stunning two-minute period just before half-time.
Bruno Guimaraes cut open the City backline with one pass that freed Isak, who cut inside Walker and curled brilliantly into the far corner.
Seconds later, the Swede’s strike was surpassed as Anthony Gordon followed a similar route by turning inside onto his right foot and firing into the far corner.
City restored their control of the game at the start of the second period, but again lacked a punch in attack until De Bruyne made his return to Premier League action for the first time since the opening day of the season.
The 32-year-old, who made his comeback as a substitute in a 5-0 rout of Huddersfield in the FA Cup last weekend, quickly showed what the European champions have been missing.
De Bruyne latched onto Rodri’s pass 16 minutes from time and drove forward before placing a low precise finish beyond Dubravka from outside the box.
Despite his lack of game time this season, De Bruyne has still produced more assists than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues since the start of last season.
And another wonderful pass over the top for Bobb created the winner.
The young Norwegian still had plenty to do, but showed quick feet to round Dubravka and tap into an unguarded net for his first Premier League goal.
“When Kevin has the ball and we have runners, Kevin is unique in the world but the finish by Oscar, I am so, so happy for him,” added Guardiola.
In contrast to City’s jubilation, another defeat for Newcastle may have realistically ended their hopes of a top-four finish as they slip to 10th, still 11 points adrift of the Champions League places.
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