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.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
[Do you want more great stories delivered right to you? Here’s how you can create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow your favorite leagues, teams and players and receive a personalized newsletter in your inbox daily.]
Get more from English Premier League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more