Samir Nasri was the star of this win that kept Manchester City five points clear in second place – but afterwards his manager Roberto Mancini said he wanted to "punch" him.
City's season of regret was summed up by the manager's frustration at the Frenchman who has been absent without leave for most of it. Nasri's dazzling performance fell into the too little too late category for City's title defence hopes but, with the Manchester derby next Monday and an FA Cup semi-final the following weekend, Nasri can still redeem himself and help the club salvage the campaign.
He led a gang of luminaries who took Newcastle United to school in a peek at the alternative fortune City could have enjoyed if they had performed like this since August. Nasri, the returning Vincent Kompany, Carlos Tevez, David Silva, and Yaya Touré were all present and correct in a fast, slick and powerful display.
This was Nasri's first league start since City's 3-1 defeat at Southampton in early February and the 25-year-old took the contest to Newcastle to show he can be the team's lead tormentor. Asked his thoughts on seeing Nasri play like so, Mancini said: "I would like to give him a punch. Because a player like him should play like today always. Always. Every game. Maybe one game sometimes he can play [badly] but with his quality ... I don't know what was different on Saturday. I can't understand [why] sometimes a player with his quality doesn't play like today [in] every game," the manager said.
Mancini believes that Nasri's internal voice will tell him this has been a disappointing season. "I think that every player is intelligent, is clever [enough] to understand his performance. I think that today he knows that he played very well," he said, before widening his assessment to the squad. "The second year is always difficult to win [the title] again. And sometimes the players can think it is enough to play 50%. Probably we had this problem this year.
"The club was born more than hundred years ago. As a strong team we were born two years ago. And every year you need to improve your team. Maybe some time some player can think: 'OK we can play maybe not like last year but we win the same because we are good players, we are quality.' But this is not true."
Strikes from Tevez and Silva just before half-time killed the contest. Then, Kompany marked a first appearance for City since late January, due to a calf injury, with the third. Touré completed the demolition of Alan Pardew's side by smashing home off James Perch.
Next, City will travel to Old Trafford 15 points behind the champions-elect. Mancini tried to brush off the deficit: "It's not important. We can't think [about the fact that] we are 15 points behind because the gap is not correct. Fifteen points is too much. But football is this. They won a lot of games to stay on the top, they deserve to win this title. It will be an important game and we want to do a good job."
In the season's first clash between the red and blue neighbours, City looked to have grabbed a point when Pablo Zabaleta made it 2-2 after 86 minutes before Robin van Persie's late winner. "The gap is not [a fair reflection]. We showed this in the first derby when we deserved to win and lost," Mancini said. "Football is this. If you don't score, if you concede, you lose the game. But this don't change nothing. They are on the top and we are in second position."
Last season, Old Trafford was the scene of City's 6-1 rout of United as their fans left armed with a new song to taunt their rivals with for the foreseeable future. This time Mancini would settle for any kind of victory. "We want to win for second position, we want to win because it's a derby," he said. "We know it will be difficult because they are in good form. They didn't lose for a long time and we know that we play against a good team."
While Matija Nastasic was not risked due to the foot injury he suffered on international duty, he, Nasri and Silva, who both each took knocks against Newcastle, should all be available for the derby.
Kompany was happy to have come through unscathed. "I was waiting for some time to come back and play with the lads," he said. "I am really happy. I always look at it this way. If you put in the right amount of work you always get a chance to come back stronger. I have worked really hard. Hopefully I will stay fit now until the end of the season. It is much better. You enjoy the game a lot more when you are fit and can play like this."
Pardew's side appear to have been sucked into the relegation scrap, with Newcastle only three points above the drop zone. "I don't think we've been that far away from safety [for a while]," he said. "But I'm sure people will stir it up and suck us into it and whatever. We will just get on with it."