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‘Kevin Is A Legend’: Guardiola Praises De Bruyne’s Instant Spark For City’s Title Tilt

Pep Guardiola welcomed Kevin De Bruyne back to Premier League combat from a five‑month absence and, after watching his playmaker turn potential defeat into a 3-2 victory at Newcastle, suggested the Belgian could turn the title race Manchester City’s way.

After stepping off the bench midway through the second half with City trailing 2-1 at St James’ Park, De Bruyne swiftly equalised before creating Oscar Bobb’s stoppage time winner.

“Kevin is a legend,” said Guardiola, whose second-placed side are now only two points behind Liverpool, the leaders. “He is loved by our people and, hopefully, in the last months he can help us be there to the end.”

City have, by their lofty standards, struggled at times since De Bruyne injured a hamstring in August, necessitating surgery. “We need players like Kevin,” said Guardiola, who will be without his key striker, Erling Haaland, until next month. “We need him to do something special in the final third. That is not tactical ability but talent, individual talent.

“I think everybody agrees we made a really good performance today against such a physical team in Newcastle. They made good transitions and, after taking the lead [through Bernardo Silva], we conceded two goals but after that talent made the difference. At half‑time I told the players: ‘You are amazing, stick together and we will do it.’

“It was really important to win because Liverpool are flying and we have to go to Anfield so it’s better to be close the them.”

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It left Eddie Howe frustrated and his injury-hit side stuck in 10th after a run of six defeats in seven league games. “We have so much promise, so much good about us but to be sat here with nothing is very painful for the players,” said Newcastle’s manager after seeing Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon score fine goals. “The first half was everything we wanted to be. We want to be front-foot but, in the second half, we couldn’t manage that.”

It did not help that Newcastle’s increasing fatigue coincided with De Bruyne’s introduction. “We wanted him to be rusty and he wasn’t,” said Howe. “We wanted to minimise the space for him and for the majority of the time he was on we dealt with it really well. With three minutes to see out we thought we were almost there.

Newcastle’s manager defended his apparent reluctance to use substitutes. “I have never doubted that we are a very good team and capable of beating anyone at our best but December was very difficult, injuries mean we don’t have our full armoury at the moment. We have lost players from midfield and attack so our options are limited. If I bring a defender on it is seen as a negative substitution.

Quick GuideHow do I sign up for sport breaking news alerts?ShowDownload the Guardian app from the iOS App Store on iPhone or the Google Play store on Android by searching for ‘The Guardian’.If you already have the Guardian app, make sure you’re on the most recent version.In the Guardian app, tap the Menu button at the bottom right, then go to Settings (the gear icon), then Notifications.Turn on sport notifications.“Fighting is all the team can do, they have to show fight in every match. They’re representing an incredible club and city. When we’re at full strength we’re incredibly talented. This is a difficult moment but we’re still a very good team. I felt we deserved a point, I couldn’t see City’s winner coming.”

More positively Howe suggested Isak can become the latest in a long line of famous Newcastle centre-forwards. “His goal was very reminiscent of Alan Shearer,” he said. “Alex can go on to achieve incredible things. He is an all round striker.”

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