In the aftermath of Manchester City's thumping 6-1 reversal of Newcastle United, most the plaudits will go in the direction of five-goal Sergio Aguero. It does undeniably rank up among the most devastating forward performances in the Premier League era, and underlines his magnificent quality when on from City's star-studded line-up. However, having to come back from a goal down was not all his doing. In fact, the foundations for the success came from elsewhere.
By half-time, City had drawn level thanks to Aguero's first of what would be many goals. It had been far from a comfortable half for the hosts however, as Steve McClaren's Newcastle posed plenty of problems in the first half-hour.
As well as his goal, Mitrovic was a constant menace to Otamendi - the defender marking him from the start - by winning every aerial duel against him, thus providing a platform for the rest of his team. Indeed, virtually every Newcastle attack came from successful hold-up play by the Magpie's forward after a long ball up to him from deep.
City were slow and sluggish to initially respond to this obvious threat - Newcastle's only true attacking outlet - but upon countering it, the balance of the game shifted. The City centre-backs rotated, with Mangala now tackling Mitrovic and Otamendi left to deal with Perez. Mangala's prime assets are his strength and athleticism, and soon he was dominating Mitrovic both in the air and on the ground.
The drying up of Newcastle's key outlet saw more effort to play the ball out from the back, with Perez dropping deeper away from the forward line. This not only allowed City to press higher up the pitch with increasing success, but meant that any ball that was played high up front was swiftly dealt with by Mangala, who now had his defensive partner markerless to receive possession and rebuild an attack. By half-time, City had asserted a degree of dominance.
It was then the withdrawal of Sterling - City's least effective player - for Jesus Navas that really swung the game in City's favour. Navas's direct running and willingness to hassle opponents - the latter a key hole in Sterling's game - put Newcastle further on the back foot. In particular, the left-back Mbabu (Newcastle's second-most impressive performer) lost his attacking impetus and struggled massively playing on the back-foot before succumbing to a second-half injury.
Moreover, Kevin de Bruyne's move to the right allowed him to cut inside more often and link more effectively with both Silva and, of course, Aguero. It was through these new attacking avenues, backed by a new defensive solidity, that the goals came. Sergio will dominate the headlines, but as ever, football is a team game, and it was team changes that built him the platform upon which he undoubtedly stood out.
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