Defending champions Manchester City reminded their title rivals they remain the team to beat by seeing off a determined Newcastle United side that have been touted as possible pretenders to their crown.
Julian Alvarez’s brilliant first-half strike proved enough to maintain City’s winning start to the Premier League season against a Magpies team who battled hard but possessed modest attacking threat for much of the match.
Phil Foden provided the creative sparkle for City in the absence of Kevin de Bruyne, who faces up to six months out after hamstring surgery this week.
The England playmaker set up Alvarez’s goal and created more chances after the break, with Erling Haaland wasting the best of them when he fired wide.
Newcastle matched City in midfield and upset the home crowd with their physical approach, with Foden and Rodri both on the receiving end of a couple of heavy challenges.
But it was in the final third where Eddie Howe’s side were lacking – something of a surprise after they scored five goals against Aston Villa on the opening weekend.
They did not manage a shot on target until the 70th minute, when substitute Harvey Barnes finally tested Ederson from outside the box, and despite some late pressure they did not create another clear chance.
Foden steps up to fill De Bruyne’s boots
With De Bruyne out for the foreseeable future and Bernardo Silva currently absent through illness, the question before the game was who would provide the attacking heartbeat for last season’s Treble winners.
Foden answered the call, almost single-handedly driving his team forward at times and asking Newcastle constant questions with his sharp turns and quick passing in their half.
The 23-year-old’s clever play made City’s winner, finding Alvarez in a rare bit of space on the edge of the Newcastle box before the Argentina forward provided an exquisite strike past Nick Pope.
More of the same followed after the break when Foden’s incisive run and pass almost released Haaland, with the Norway striker only denied a shot at goal by Fabian Schar’s superb last-ditch challenge.
The pair combined again a few minutes later and this time Haaland did escape the Magpies defence, only to fire wide with the goal gaping.
Foden kept probing, however, and almost got on the scoresheet himself when Haaland returned the favour and sent him galloping into the box late on – he fired wide, when a goal would have capped a superb individual performance.
Could Foden play centrally for England too?
This was not the first time we have seen Foden for City in a more central role usually filled by De Bruyne or Silva, but his performance in that position against the Magpies demonstrated how good he is there as well as out wide.
City boss Pep Guardiola said: “Phil has shown many times he can play in all the positions up front, he has an incredible ability when he is between the lines, the way he turns and attacks the last line is one of the best I have ever seen.
“With every control, he knows exactly where the goal is – he doesn’t need two or three touches to be in the right position to attack the goal, in just one movement he is attacking.”
TNT pundit and former England striker Peter Crouch was also impressed, and called for Foden to get the chance to play there for his country too.
“We haven’t got a Kevin de Bruyne who plays for England and he stepped into it against Newcastle,” Crouch added.
“In those central positions, imagine if it was with a Kane or Rashford in front of him. There is no doubt in my mind he is the best in the league – nobody does it better, getting on the half turn and attacking a back four or three and sliding passes.”
Newcastle fail to make a statement
With City’s squad depleted and still recovering from Wednesday’s Uefa Super Cup win in Athens, this game was seen as an opportunity for Newcastle to make a statement of their own.
It did not quite turn out that way and, although they again demonstrated their defensive resilience, they did not make things as difficult for City’s own backline as many people expected.
There were only flashes of danger when Alexander Isak got on the ball and Anthony Gordon’s early duels with Kyle Walker down the left did not turn into meaningful chances for the visitors.
Only in the closing stages did they come forward with any real intent and even then they lacked purpose.
Their best effort came after Callum Wilson should have capitalised on a poor pass from Rodri and, although Barnes still got a shot away, it was comfortably stopped by Ederson.
It turned into a disappointing night for the Magpies and, for all their recent progress, showed how much work is still needed for them to close the gap on City, who finished 18 points above them in 2022-23.
Newcastle failed to beat any of the other teams in the top seven on the road last season despite finishing in the Champions League places. On this evidence, more improvement is needed in attack if that statistic is to change this time.