Man City and Bernardo Silva put Arsenal, Liverpool on high alert

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City head into the final straight of the Premier League title run-in after the international break, and the ease of their FA Cup quarterfinal win over Newcastle United should be enough to worry both Arsenal and Liverpool.

City won 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday to book a record sixth straight FA Cup semifinal and warm up for Arsenal’s visit on Mar. 31 in the best possible way. Again, Pep Guardiola’s team are turning up the pace of their trophy charge at the right time. It’s now 22 games without defeat in all competitions and, really, Newcastle never came close to becoming the first visiting team to win at the Etihad since Nov. 2022.

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Two goals from Bernardo Silva before half-time — both deflected but still deserved — made for a comfortable evening and it was the kind of calm, composed performance which might make Mikel Arteta and Jurgen Klopp wince at the thought of the battle ahead.

Newcastle are dealing with injuries to key players like Kieran Trippier, but a team playing in the Champions League before Christmas were still expertly brushed aside as if they were a lower league side just happy to be here.

“Always we expect the best for the team,” said Guardiola. “We won the treble, five titles and coming back from the last international break, in the last one or two months, to be in contention means a lot.

“This club has something special. It’s incredible. I know we play to win the finals, but to win it, you have to win the earlier rounds. We won four Carabao Cup finals in a row and now we’re in six FA Cup semifinals in a row. To run and play the way they did is incredible, congratulations to the team, no one has done that before.

“We played really well, we were so safe with the ball. Mateo [Kovacic], Rodri and Bernardo kept the ball so well. The game was really good,” added Guardiola.

It’s hard to overestimate the relentlessness of this City team. Against Liverpool at Anfield, it was John Stones who popped up with a vital goal. A week earlier against Manchester United, it was Phil Foden who ran the game, scoring twice.

This time it was Bernardo, without a goal for more than a month coming into the game, who made the difference. His two first-half goals took such big deflections that he looked a little sheepish during the celebrations, but the Portuguese midfielder was being congratulated for repeatedly finding pockets of space on the right edge of the penalty area more than the finishes.

City have coped admirably with the departures of David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gündogan over the years, but Guardiola may find Bernardo the hardest of them all to replace. With an accessible release clause of around £50m added into the contract extension he signed last summer, City are expecting firm interest from Paris Saint-Germain ahead of next season but while he’s here, Silva will remain the player Guardiola trusts over anyone else in the big games.

It says everything about Silva’s class against Newcastle that Kevin De Bruyne, nursing a groin injury, was barely missed. “Everybody loves him and we want him, even if the goals are deflections,” said Guardiola.

“It’s important he stays with us. Kevin will be back soon but when you see the schedule — Arsenal, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Real Madrid — it’s really tough and we need everyone. I’ve said many times how important Bernardo is.”

Afterwards, Howe was left to bemoan the “football gods working against us” in reference to Silva’s two fortunate goals, but that ignored the fact that Newcastle had been limited to just two shots over the 90 minutes and only one on target. Looking for a first trophy since 1955, Howe, who tried something different by shifting his system to five at the back, admitted his team “had not been good enough.”

“The goals are difficult to take, especially the first which was a big deflection and flies into the top corner,” he added.

“I don’t know what to say. The lads gave everything. It’s very difficult to play Man City at any time but especially when they pick those technical players. I thought we did OK, stuck at it and we did unsettle them at times.”

In reality, though, it was another game which showcased City’s ability to squeeze the life out of their opponents and the fear for Liverpool and Arsenal is that they’ll be able to squeeze the life out of the title race after the international break.

Guardiola faces a nervous wait to see how many of his players return from their national teams unscathed ahead of Arsenal’s visit to the Etihad when the Premier League returns, and it may be that it takes an unexpected injury to derail what looks, on the face of it, like a charge towards another treble.