Newcastle and Manchester City entertained in a six-goal draw but the clubs’ owners and history will not be forgotten
Pep Guardiola became incensed. He paced the sidelines while hunching over and ruminating. During a timeout for an injury, he pointed towards Bernardo Silva and gave him detailed instructions. Manchester City was leading 1-0 and making chances, but Guardiola frequently acts as his own canary in the mine, his anger signalling a problem long before it is shown in actual deeds.
Eddie Howe was expected to suffer his 11th loss against Guardiola in 11 encounters when Ilkay Gündogan gave City the lead in the fifth minute. Everyone is familiar with the routine: Guardiola compliments Howe on the style of football his team plays—all the passing and so little roughhousing, all the space and so little closing down—and then cruises to a convincing victory. Before the game even started, Guardiola led the two teams 31-4 in goals scored.
Guardiola, however, was correct. Something was wrong. Surprisingly, there was little of the control City so privilege has over the game. Newcastle and City traded blows, each landing one after the other. The Australian referee Jarred Gillett’s willingness to let the game flow culminated in his VAR-aided decision to reverse the red card he had shown to Kieran Tripp. There was brilliant football, an extraordinary finish from the outside of Callum Wilson’s foot, and an exquisite pass from Kevin De Bruyne. There was also a breathless physicality to it all, men at it all over the place.
By a significant margin, this was the greatest sportswashing derby the Premier League has ever witnessed. Even while it may have sold its soul to countries with dubious human rights records (or their public investment funds), it appears to have received a fair price for it. It goes without saying that the home support made no mention of the case of Leeds student Salma al-Shehab, who was condemned to 34 years in prison this week by a Saudi court for allegedly supporting activists and dissidents on Twitter.
Yes, the transition is awkward, but so is the idea of states owning football clubs in general; it is impossible to avoid a disconnect in tone, which is why these beloved institutions, these symbols of national pride, these venues for excitement and fun, should never have been given to foreign states seeking to expand their influence and improve their reputations. It should never have happened that weekend activities for fans would be marred by the happenings on a different court.
Allan Saint-Maximin, a player whose erratic, unpredictable skills are the antithesis of Guardiola’s football, was at the centre of the afternoon’s drama. He got a run at Kyle Walker repeatedly. John Stones, who was seated inside the full-back, had the kind of wild, fixated gaze that, in the 1980s, would have earned him an Oscar for a Vietnam-related movie.
When Darwin Nez briefly ran them ragged during the Community Shield against Liverpool, City, who had been imperious in dismissing West Ham and Bournemouth, suddenly appeared anxious. This may not mean much more than the fact that defenders find it challenging when large, powerful forwards run at them. Before halftime, two of those Saint Maximin intrusions resulted in goals, while the third set up the free kick that Trippier used to score Newcastle’s third.
But a 3-1 lead was insufficient. Bernardo Silva’s equaliser, a deft run and a flawless finish that are unmistakably him and City’s brand of football, was the culmination of De Bruyne finding a new gear and inspiring a City comeback. There are many parts of Barcelona’s pursuit of Silva that are absurd, but their ability to pay for yet another player seems virtually insignificant compared to the fact that there is always another lever to be pulled and more family silver to be flogged in their fantasy economics universe. The question of why City would be willing to let him go is much more significant.
Maybe it was just a simple case of economics; if someone offers £100 million for a 28-year-old, it doesn’t make sense not to at least consider it. Silva, though, feels like the physical representation of Guardiola’s ideology because of his small stature, technical prowess, work ethic, and intelligence.
This was his first league start of the year, which may be an indication of his lack of confidence in his own abilities rather than Gündogan’s elevated standing as club captain since the summer. Silva has fewer opportunities to play in the middle now that Rodri and Kalvin Phillips are vying for the holding midfield position and De Bruyne is practically set to start.
He was used on the right at St James’ Park, providing crucial attacking width and drifting dangerously infield. He received the ball in space, held it skillfully, and avoided four half-challenges without actually needing to beat anyone to score the opening goal for Gündogan. However, the majority of Newcastle’s threat came from down his wing.
So far in the season’s first three games, only Arsenal has a flawless record, and City’s more upbeat competitors will take heart from their unexpected fragility. Less optimistic people will point out how spectacular City’s comeback was. And neutrals will consider themselves fortunate to have seen a gloriously entertaining draw while making every effort to block out any thoughts about who paid for it.