With the pressures of league demands now off their shoulders, Manchester City and Newcastle showed just how thrilling a ‘meaningless’ English Premier League match can be on Friday night as they served up a 4-3 classic at St James’ Park.
Newly crowned champions City had the luxury of resting a number of key players ahead of their Champions League final at the end of the month against Chelsea, while Newcastle, with the threat of relegation now gone, had a point to prove to their critics. A weakened City side is still a formidable beast and players Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Ferran Torres, Joao Cancelo and Gabriel Jesus all took to the field to give Newcastle a tough time while the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson and Phil Foden took the night off.
While Steve Bruce’s side ultimately went down to the champs, they will take confidence from this showing going into next season. The recent upturn in Newcastle’s form earned Bruce the Manager of the Month award in April — something that would have seemed unfathomable to even the most die-hard Magpies fan in February or even March. Newcastle managed to do something rarely achieved — even by the top teams in Europe — and breached the City goal three times.
There was a strange face in goal for City however as regular starter Ederson was rested and No. 2 Zack Steffen made way to allow one of the most remarkable tales to take place.
Former England No. 1 Scott Carson — on loan at City from Derby County as back-up — made his first Premier League start for more than a decade and performed well against a spirited Newcastle despite shipping three goals — he even saved a penalty but was powerless to stop the follow-up. Carson, now 35, has been at City for two seasons now and Guardiola revealed he is a real leader in the dressing room. “He says straight away what he believes, he has a lot of experience, he has been in incredible locker rooms with big teams,” said the City coach. “He is an incredible person and we are delighted — not just me but Eddy (Ederson) and Zack (Steffen) and the players that today he could play.”
Carson was not at fault for any of the goals and he received a guard of honour from the Magpies along with the rest of the champions as they took to the field.
An added bonus for Pep Guardiola’s City was the hat-trick from young Ferran Torres, giving hope that they may have discovered a long-term solution to all-time goalscorer Sergio Aguero’s imminent departure.
Torres demonstrated his scoring instincts by netting a treble as City smashed another all-time English top-flight record with their 12th straight away win in the league (while also setting a new English benchmark of 23 consecutive unbeaten matches away from home in all competitions).
Spaniard Torres has now hit 13 goals in his debut season at City, who is naturally a winger but has filled in as a striker at times whenever Aguero and Jesus have been absent.
Guardiola spoke excitedly after the game about the potential of the 21-year-old Torres, saying he could “smell” where the goal was.
“He is so young and clinical,” Guardiola said. “He is a guy brought as a winger but maybe we have to think as a striker.”
Torres, signed from Valencia as one of Spanish football’s top talents, is only three goals behind City top scorer Gundogan for this campaign.
With the title wrapped up on Tuesday with three matches to spare, City look like they will have some fun in the final week of the campaign and Torres certainly enjoyed himself at St James’ Park.
“It has been an incredible week — we qualified for the Champions League final, won the Premier League and I scored a hat-trick. Very happy,” Torres said.
He scored twice in three minutes from the 64th as City fought back from 3-2 behind.
City moved 13 points clear of second-placed Manchester United, who handed their neighbours the title by losing to Leicester in midweek.
Newcastle went ahead through Emil Krafth’s header at a corner in the 25th before Cancelo equalised off a deflected shot that spun into the far corner from the edge of the area in the 39th.
Torres produced an impressive flicked volley in mid-air three minutes later as City moved ahead 2-1, only for Joelinton to get fouled in the area by Nathan Ake and dust himself down to convert the penalty past Carson in first-half stoppage time.
Newcastle were awarded another penalty when Joe Willock was tripped by Kyle Walker and the fouled player again took the spot kick. This time, Carson made the save, but the ball rebounded out and Willock converted into an empty net.
Walker teed up Torres to equalise, and the winger was on hand to volley the winning goal high into the net when Cancelo’s shot came back off the post.
“We made mistakes because we are champions,” Guardiola said. “We were distracted a little bit, but this is normal. Today, I knew that could happen.”
If any more gloss were needed, Torres also broke Barcelona captain Lionel Messi’s record to become the youngest player ever to score a league hat-trick under Guardiola.