'The best performance of the season' - Manchester City find their rhythm to kick-start Premier Leagu
Pep Guardiola was pleased with his side's comprehensive Boxing Day victory over Newcastle as the championship race enters a crucial phase
Manchester City appear to be getting back to their best in time for a Premier League title challenge in 2021.
Pep Guardiola's side have quietly risen to fifth in the table - and to within five points of leaders Liverpool - on the back of a six-game unbeaten streak.
The City boss now believes his side are starting to show the old swagger that saw them record back-to-back Premier League titles during his reign.
There was nothing surprising about beating Newcastle on Boxing Day - the Magpies haven't won away at City in the league for more than 20 years - however Guardiola saw something in his side's stylish and controlled performance that has him excited for the rest of the campaign.
"It was the best performance of the season," he said after the 2-0 victory. "Our football has to be played in one rhythm. We cannot play up and down so quickly. We have to make a tempo and a thousand-million passes in the right moment.
"To do this everyone has to be in his position and everyone has to do his job - today was a big example."
City dominated the ball, as they generally do, with more than three-quarters of possession against a side struggling with injuries and illness.
What got Guardiola so excited was the purpose and intent from his team. They teased and probed against Newcastle's black and white defensive wall yet still had the ability to open them up.
City are so often at their most dangerous when they get around the back of tight defences and fire in low crosses that are almost impossible to defend. Both goals against Newcastle were classic examples.
Raheem Sterling's clever movement created an angle for Joao Cancelo to slide through a pass to him and the England international cut the ball back for Ilkay Gundogan sweep home the opener.
The second came when Cancelo drilled in a low cross that was deflected into the path of Ferran Torres to score.
They should have had more. Sterling missed another from two yards out and Karl Darlow pulled off a wonder save to keep out Sergio Aguero.
The feel-good factor is slowly starting to return to City after a difficult start. A lack of pre-season and a punishing schedule saw them marooned in mid-table.
Confidence also took a battering following last season's disappointments and particularly after the shock Champions League exit to Lyon just five weeks before the start of the new campaign.
A return to form has been built on the back of a strong defence, with just one deflected goal conceded in the last 565 minutes of play. Now the rest of the squad are starting to show their quality.
Against Newcastle, Sterling and Bernardo Silva pulled the full-backs into uncomfortable positions, Cancelo attacked with menace and Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne patiently picked out perfect passes.
Goals remain the one frustration and, while the emphatic scorelines that have littered Guardiola's time at the club have not yet returned, there is a growing optimism.
While Gabriel Jesus is set for a few days out after a positive Covid-19 test, Sergio Aguero looked sharper than he has all season with a lively 13-minute cameo as he tries to leave behind the injury problems that have dogged him for the last six months.
Guardiola now wants his side to go into the rest of the season with the same confidence. City have a big double-header either side of the New Year celebrations; a trip to second-placed Everton on Monday followed by Chelsea on January 3.
"The guys did really well and I'm so glad," Guardiola added after the Newcastle win. "We have a victory, we claim some positions and now we need to be calm because it's non-stop.
"In less than 44 hours we have another game and we're going to Goodison Park to try to play well. The result is always the consequence of the way you played. This was our success in the past and we are going to continue in the next years."
It is a critical week which could see City emerge from the pack of chasers as the biggest threat to Liverpool's title defence.
If City really are back in their old rhythm, it will be very hard to knock them out of it again.
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