Manchester City are often slow starters but they have controlled their opening two league fixtures without being threatened, while not playing anywhere near their best to show they are the team to beat once more.
Julián Álvarez’s goal settled the win over Newcastle but Phil Foden was at the heart of City’s victory. Foden created enough chances for City to have won by more but poor finishing kept the margin to one against a Newcastle side who spent the summer night on the backfoot.
The Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League trophies were paraded before the match, three pieces of silverware both sides will be aiming to challenge for come the end of the season. Newcastle’s revolution is somewhat behind Manchester City’s but time and finance will help them close the gap.
This was a chance for Eddie Howe’s side to show they could match the champions. The method they chose was to attempt to contain City with a flat five in midfield and little space left between them and the defence. The hosts dominated possession, waiting in hope for a gap to emerge, although that was a complicated issue when 10 Newcastle players could be found in their own box.
Positions and formations are an outdated concept in elite football. Foden started on the right wing but acted more as an auxiliary No 10, drifting in to find space and impact the game where he wants to. Meanwhile the man on the other flank, Jack Grealish, could be found in the left-back position when City had possession in their own half. Pep Guardiola looked to lure Newcastle into a false sense of security, before allowing Grealish and Kyle Walker to attack out wide.
City spent the early stages in the Newcastle half, without threatening the goal. It meant the visitors grew in confidence and found the boldness to cross the halfway line to create half chances but it was a false dawn for Newcastle.
Guardiola’s plan worked beautifully when Foden found space inside the box, before passing to Álvarez, who had the time to take a touch and fire across Nick Pope into the top corner. The goalkeeper got a hand to the shot and will feel he should have done better, as will the travelling support behind him.
Newcastle came out after the break with more attacking vigour but City had a more straightforward concept: Ederson whacking the ball the full length of the pitch to Erling Haaland, who managed to hold off the defender and get a shot away but it was straight at Pope. It is fair to say City’s threat is more than one dimensional.
Indiscipline set in for Newcastle and a number of yellow cards were picked up to stifle City. Joelinton injured himself with a cynical challenge on Foden, resulting in a caution and needing to be substituted immediately afterwards, although a refresh in midfield was necessary regardless.
More space was opening up for Foden to work in, he was showing why he wants to be playing as a No 10. In Kevin De Bruyne’s absence, City need a freeflowing and confident Foden to make the difference in tight games. He created a fine chance for Haaland, starting with a dynamic one-two inside the Newcastle half before slipping the ball into the Norwegian, who dragged his shot inches wide. Moments later the two combined again but Pope’s feet prevented a goal. The thought of Foden and Haaland being on the same wavelength will put fear into opposing defences.
In Foden’s cameos in the No 10 roles in the early matches this season, he has struggled to show what he is capable of but his display against Newcastle illustrates what he can do. City will challenge for the title once more and if generational talent Foden maintains his form, he could be a key component. Last season was an indifferent one for Foden but he looks sharp and confident, unconcerned about the absence of a certain Belgian.