Eddie Howe had never beaten Pep Guardiola until Wednesday evening when he ended a personal wait as Newcastle expelled the serial winners from the Carabao Cup. In doing so he also removed the possibility that Manchester City will hold all three major domestic trophies at the same time as the Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup.
The match revolved around the changes one manager made and the move another did not make. And Guardiola was not the proactive coach. Admittedly, even as his side trailed on Tyneside and succumbed to their first defeat of the season, penalty shootouts aside, he opted not to bring on Erling Haaland, settling for an early exit rather than risking his star striker. Doing nothing became a choice in itself.
Yet a game of two halves revolved around two of Howe’s decisions: the first, to make 10 changes, left Newcastle needlessly weakened, silenced their crowd and produced a first-half display so anaemic they were fortunate to go in level as City dominated possession. The second was the right type of catalytic impact, injecting urgency and ambition, bringing St James’ Park to life. Even if the decisive goal came from a combination of his starters, Joelinton setting up Alexander Isak, it would have felt impossible without the introductions of Anthony Gordon and Bruno Guimaraes. They created a shift in mood.
Whether, in the longer term, it helps bring a shift in the balance of power between these clubs, between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabian projects, remains to be seen. But sooner or later, Newcastle required a statement result against City, even a depleted City. Isak, a statement signing, delivered one. And in a week when they registered a historic win, beating Sheffield United 8-0 at Bramall Lane, there is a case for arguing a lower-scoring affair in a lesser competition has rather greater significance.
It will do if Newcastle, finalists last year, return to Wembley, go one better and secure their first major silverware in 55 years. This tie ought to matter more to them: winners of this competition in four consecutive seasons, City will now go a third year without triumphing in what was their private fiefdom but they have since claimed grander prizes.
And yet they began in complete control, lacking only a goal. Howe named a team with two flagship buys, in Sandro Tonali and Isak, and perhaps Newcastle’s next generation of full-backs, in Lewis Hall and Tino Livramento, but also the past of their defence, in Jamaal Lascelles and Paul Dummett.
But perhaps only three outfield players – Tonali, Jacob Murphy and Isak – had match sharpness. Their first-half performance had echoes of the approach Steve Bruce and Rafa Benitez would deploy against City, devoid of ambition, lacking the ball, seemingly waiting for defeat. Newcastle had no shot of any description for 40 minutes until, out of nothing, they had a golden chance, Isak releasing Murphy on the counterattack and Stefan Ortega making a fine save. Otherwise, City had looked the more dangerous, the full debutant Oscar Bobb twice releasing Julian Alvarez to shoot. Nick Pope made an excellent save: banned for last season’s final against Manchester United, the goalkeeper was the one man to keep his place from Bramall Lane, and Newcastle could be relieved he did.
They had looked outclassed albeit that, without Haaland, City lacked a finisher and, with the left-back Sergio Gomez crowbarred into the team on the right wing, they did not have a full complement of creators.
But the warning signs were there and Howe acted. The callow pair of Hall and Lewis Miley departed, two full debuts curtailed after a chastening first half. Each may represent the future for Newcastle, but neither looked the present. But Gordon and Bruno do. Their presence roused St James’ Park. Gordon is many things, but not passive. Miley had struggled to get on the ball, but it is rarely a problem for Guimaraes.
Newcastle seized the initiative. They had purpose and, soon, a goal. Joelinton powered into the penalty area and centred. Rico Lewis, perhaps unsure of his bearings, stepped over the ball, and Isak had the time to take a touch before finishing.
Thereafter, Isak later walked off gingerly; having lost Harvey Barnes for the much of the season, Newcastle could do without further injuries in attack. But Gordon kept running at City, taking the fine form he showed at Bramall Lane back up the A1. He might have added a second. So could Joelinton.
With Dummett and Lascelles becoming the first centre-back partnership to stop City from scoring this season, one verdict may be that Newcastle demonstrated their strength in depth. Perhaps they do not have as much as Howe imagined when naming his team. But Guardiola used to lift the Carabao Cup after navigating his way through the early rounds with mix-and-match teams and judicious use of substitutes. Having finally defeated him, Howe may hope he has copied his winning formula.
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