Pep Guardiola is relieved to have “special player” Kevin De Bruyne back after he inspired Manchester City to victory at Newcastle on his return to Premier League action.
The 32-year-old Belgium international, who had not made a league appearance since August because of injury, endured a disappointing start to his evening on Tyneside when he drilled a free-kick harmlessly into the defensive wall with his first touch.
But he drew City level within five minutes of his introduction and then set up fellow substitute Oscar Bobb to snatch a 3-2 victory in stoppage time.
Asked about his contribution, Guardiola said with a smile: “I am so disappointed in him and upset and grumpy because the free-kick, he didn’t score a goal.
“Apart from that, I had the feeling he was not ready for 90 minutes after five months. We cannot forget – people say, ‘OK he’s ready, he can play after five months 90 minutes’.
“It’s not the case, so that is why he was in that situation. But we had control of the game and his impact in the last 35 minutes, the goal, the assist and how many times he arrived at the byline for the crosses…
“He is a special player. He is a legend, he is beloved by our people and he is fresh in his mind because five months is a lot of time. Hopefully in the second part of the season, he can help us be there until the end.”
City looked to be on their way when Bernardo Silva cheekily back-heeled Kyle Walker’s cross past Martin Dubravka, but superb finishes from Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon inside two minutes put the Magpies ahead.
They retained their advantage until 16 minutes from time when De Bruyne, who had been introduced as a replacement for Silva five minutes earlier, levelled with an astute finish before setting up fellow substitute Bobb to win it in stoppage time.
Assessing a win which took City back into second place behind Liverpool to enhance their title hopes, Guardiola said: “Why should we not try it again?
“We have won (the title) three times in a row, five in the last six, so why not? It’s really important because Liverpool are flying over the last month and we have to go to Anfield, so it’s better to be close to them.”
For Magpies boss Eddie Howe, there was pride in a fine display, but one which ended in disappointment to join a series of near misses this season against the likes of Liverpool and Paris St Germain.
“There was so much promise and so many good things, so to be sat here with nothing is very, very painful,” Howe said.
“The lads have given so much physically in that game. The first half was everything that we want to be. We wanted to be aggressive and front foot. When you do that, you take risks, but those risks were worth it.
“You could see that it paid off at the other end. We still wanted to do that in the second half, we still wanted to play the same way, but we just couldn’t deliver that in the second half.”
On De Bruyne’s contribution, Howe added: “You just hope he’s rusty and not up to full speed yet, but then he comes on and delivers that and you think, ‘Well, there’s no rustiness there’.”