(Reuters) – Manchester City’s relentless assault on English football’s record books continued on Wednesday as a Raheem Sterling goal earned them a 1-0 win at Newcastle United to extend their extraordinary record of successive Premier League wins to 18.
Sterling’s fine 31st minute finish saw Guardiola’s men improve their unbeaten league sequence this season to 20 games and stretch their yawning gap at the top of the league to 15 points on a night where they dominated but were very wasteful.
Rafa Benitez started with the most negative approach St James’ Park can ever have seen from a Newcastle side, allowing City to monopolise proceedings before Sterling finally broke their resistance with his 13th league goal of the season.
City hit the woodwork three times in total — twice from Sergio Aguero and once from Kevin De Bruyne — and they nearly paid for their profligacy in front of goal when, in rare Newcastle attacks, Rolando Aarons had a first-half chip cleared off the line and Dwight Gayle headed wide late on.
Despite a slightly sloppy second-half performance, it would have been a travesty if Newcastle, just a point above the relegation zone after their fifth straight home defeat, had been rewarded for an ultra-cautious approach.
City moved on to 58 points out of a possible 60, with their Manchester United neighbours on 43 points and Chelsea on 42. “We did absolutely everything but it is difficult to play when the other team doesn’t want to play,” Guardiola told BBC Sport in what sounded a harsh but fair assessment of Newcastle’s early passivity.
“Any manager can decide what he wants. I prefer to try to play but I respect a lot what opponents do and we have to try to discover how to attack against them.”
Such is City’s aura now that Newcastle, almost as if Benitez was resigned to their fate from the start, invariably put 10 men behind the ball in the opening half an hour as the visitors sought an opening.
Argentine Aguero volleyed against the post after seven minutes and De Bruyne let Newcastle off with some slack finishing before the South American again struck the post on the half-hour with a right foot shot.
City even made light of the early departure of captain Vincent Kompany, who suffered yet another of his injury woes and had to limp off after 10 minutes.
Refusing to compromise their attacking approach, they simply pushed midfielder Fernandinho back into central defence and brought on striker Gabriel Jesus.
With Newcastle offering nothing, it felt just a matter of time before De Bruyne picked out Sterling brilliantly with a floated through ball which saw the England international ghost in and squeeze it left-footed past Rob Elliot from a narrow angle.
Forced to offer a response, Newcastle responded almost immediately when a fine Aarons’ chip brought an excellent headed goalline clearance from Nicolas Otamendi under his own bar but it was just a brief respite as City equalled the English top-flight record of 11 consecutive away league victories.
De Bruyne, with a strange mixture of commanding orchestration and wayward finishing, struck the post with one searing shot but City did appear to become a little complacent as substitute Gayle came close with an 89th minute header that went just wide.
Now, Guardiola is just one win away from equalling the record of 19 league victories in a row that he set with Bayern Munich in 2013-14, the longest winning streak achieved in any of Europe’s top five leagues.