NEWCASTLE: Maybe the replacement for departing Manchester City great Sergio Aguero is already in the squad.
Ferran Torres demonstrated his scoring instincts by netting a hat-trick as newly crowned champions City won a record 12th straight away game in the English Premier League, 4-3 at Newcastle United on Friday.
That’s 13 goals in his debut season at City for the Spain international, who is naturally a winger but has filled in as a striker at times whenever Aguero and Gabriel Jesus have been absent.
Torres, signed from Valencia as one of Spanish football’s top talents, is only three goals behind City top scorer Ilkay Gundogan for this campaign.
Both were part of another heavily rotated line-up named by Guardiola that also included third-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson, an on-loan 35-year-old who was making his first start in the top flight in 10 years.
With the title wrapped up on Tuesday with three matches to spare, City look like they will have some fun in the final week of the campaign two weeks ahead of the Champions League final.
Torres made the strongest case to be involved against Chelsea in Porto on May 29 with a trio of fine finishes.
He scored twice in three minutes from the 64th as City fought back from 3-2 behind.
City moved 13 points clear of second-placed Manchester United, who handed their neighbours the title by losing to Leicester City in midweek.
Newcastle, who are safe from relegation, went ahead through Emil Krafth’s header at a corner in the 25th before Joao Cancelo equalised off a deflected shot that spun into the far corner from the edge of the area in the 39th and Torres put City ahead with a superbly improvised flick to direct Ilkay Guendogan’s cross into the net.
But Newcastle were level in first-half stoppage time when Joelinton thumped a penalty past Carson after a complex VAR decision. Joelinton was clearly taken down by Nathan Ake in the box but VAR was required to decide whether Allan Saint-Maximin had been offside in the build-up.
It was proving a busy night for Carson and he faced another penalty just past the hour when Kyle Walker barged over Joe Willock in the area. Carson saved Willock’s effort but the Arsenal loanee turned in the rebound.
But City were in no mood to offer any gifts and were level again within two minutes as Torres converted a cross by Raheem Sterling on the stretch.
He completed his hat-trick when he showed great balance to volley home a rebound after Cancelo struck the woodwork with a fierce drive from outside the area.
TOP-FOUR BATTLE INTENSIFIES
After United’s loss to Leicester City saw City clinch the title on Tuesday, they fell to another defeat on Thursday after going down 4-2 to Liverpool after Roberto Firmino scored twice.
Liverpool moved within four points of fourth-placed Chelsea, whose top-four hopes were dented after a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal on Wednesday, and six behind third-placed Leicester with a game in hand as the battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League goes down to the final three games of the season.
United went ahead when Nat Phillips accidentally helped to divert the shot from Bruno Fernandes into the net.
But from a corner, Mohamed Salah’s blocked shot was not cleared and a follow-up effort from Phillips was flicked in by Diogo Jota in the 34th minute.
And Liverpool entered halftime in the lead after Firmino rose above Paul Pogba to meet a free kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
There was another one inside two minutes of the second half. Fred was exposed playing out from the back and the errors continued with Luke Shaw dispossessed before Alexander-Arnold had a shot spilled by Dean Henderson and Firmino took advantage to score his eighth of the league campaign.
Just when United looked to be capitulating, Marcus Rashford pulled one back in the 68th minute. After initially passing to Edinson Cavani, Rashford made the run to receive the ball back and then slide a shot past goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
There would be no United comeback, though.
Nemanja Matic gave the ball away in the 90th minute and Curtis Jones passed down the middle for Salah to run onto and then curl a low shot past Henderson.
In Thursday’s other game, Everton moved into eighth place with a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2021