De Bruyne inspires Man City comeback in EPL return to show he can swing title race
LONDON (AP) — It took Kevin De Bruyne less than five minutes to show why his return from injury could be so crucial for Manchester City in the second half of the Premier League season.
Five months after having surgery on a hamstring injury, De Bruyne came off the bench to score the equalizer and set up an injury-time winner for City in a 3-2 win at Newcastle on Saturday.
De Bruyne had not made a league appearance since the opening round of the season in August, but it looked like he'd never been away.
With City trailing 2-1 at St. James' Park and Pep Guardiola's team struggling to find the bit of quality needed to break down the hosts' defense, De Bruyne came on in the 69th minute and turned the game around with two perfect touches of his right foot.
In the 74th, he collected the ball and drove forward toward the area before sidefooting a pinpoint finish just inside the near post, out of reach of goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. And in stoppage time, he lifted a perfectly weighted ball into the box for substitute Oscar Bobb to score his first Premier League goal and complete the comeback.
“I missed this," De Bruyne said. "I think it was more willpower than anything else. It was crazy. I know I’m not able to do that for 90 minutes at the moment. I can put in a shift for 30 minutes at the moment. I feel it in my lungs, especially with the cold.”
Bobb's goal handed Newcastle a fourth straight league loss and Eddie Howe's team is now behind Chelsea, which climbed into eighth place with a 1-0 win over Fulham. Only two games were played Saturday with half of the Premier League teams having the weekend off for a short winter break.
For City, it was a sixth straight win in all competitions, but the psychological boost of having arguably the league's best — and most influential — player back to full fitness could prove even more important than the three points. Especially with striker Erling Haaland appearing to be sidelined until the end of the month with a foot injury.
“When Kevin has the ball and we have runners, Kevin is unique in the world," Guardiola said. "But the finish by Oscar, I am so, so happy for him.”
Guardiola's team climbed above Aston Villa into second place but is still two points behind leader Liverpool. However, the defending champions clawed back a bigger deficit in the second half of the campaign to overtake Arsenal for the title last season.
Newcastle had beaten City at home in the League Cup in September and looked headed for another victory after a frantic first half that featured three highlight-reel goals in a 12-minute span.
Bernardo Silva put City ahead with a crafty backheel flick after meeting a cross from Kyle Walker in the 26th minute but Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon put Newcastle ahead with similar goals within two minutes of each other.
Isak equalized after running onto a long ball over the top, cutting inside Walker and beating substitute goalkeeper Stefan Ortega with a curling strike that crept inside the far post.
Gordon then nearly replicated that feat minutes later on another quick counter, driving in from the left and also cutting inside Walker before curling the ball past Ortega and inside the same corner.
Ortega had to come on after just eight minutes after Ederson was injured when colliding with Sean Longstaff as he scored a goal that was disallowed for offside during an eventful start to the game.
DERBY WIN FOR CHELSEA
Chelsea has now won three league games in a row for the first time under Mauricio Pochettino, with Cole Palmer again providing the crucial goal for the Blues in the west London derby against Fulham.
Palmer slotted in a penalty in first-half stoppage time to give Chelsea a fourth straight league victory at home, its best run at Stamford Bridge in 3 1/2 years.
It was the 21-year-old Palmer’s ninth league goal of the season and fifth from the penalty spot after joining from Man City in the offseason.
And it made up for his missed chances in Tuesday's 1-0 loss to second-tier Middlesbrough in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals.
“After the (Middlesbrough) game I was disappointed, like anyone’s going to be, missing that many chances and costing the team the game,” Palmer told broadcaster TNT. “People know you have those games, so just had to try and put it behind me.”
Fulham manager Marco Silva was fuming after the game, though, arguing that Chelsea defender Malo Gusto should have been sent off in the first half, when he escaped with just a yellow card for a studs-up challenge on Willian.
“It’s a clear mistake from the VAR,” Silva said. “It’s a clear red card."
READING GAME ABANDONED
Reading's third-tier match against Port Vale was abandoned just 16 minutes into the first half Saturday after around 1,000 home fans invaded the pitch to protest against the club’s ownership, with many of them refusing to leave.
Reading made several appeals over the stadium loudspeakers and social media for fans to leave the field and allow the League One game to resume, but it was eventually abandoned with the score at 0-0.
Reading fans have long been unhappy with the club’s owner, Chinese businessman Dai Yongge, accusing him of financial mismanagement. Reading has been deducted a total of four points this season for failing to pay players on time.
It was unclear whether the game would be replayed or whether Port Vale would be credited with a win.
The English Football League, which runs the professional divisions below the Premier League, said it “will now discuss the implications of this afternoon’s events with the clubs involved.”
A second League One game, between Bolton and Cheltenham, was also called off Saturday because of a medical emergency in the crowd.
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