Manchester City were placed under the microscope as never before after the Champions League misery against Real Madrid but no-one can argue with their manner of their response.
Pep Guardiola’s side held the chance to contest the final of the competition that has agonisingly eluded them in their hands until they somehow conjured devastating defeat from what seemed like assured victory in the Bernabeu.
And to put the suffering into even sharper relief Liverpool, stalking them every inch of the way in City’s battle to retain their Premier League crown, turned their own adversity into triumph to come through their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.
The list of questions aimed at City in the aftermath of that last-gasp collapse focused on character, Guardiola’s game management and the powers of recovery to maintain the excellence of their Premier League season with Liverpool on their shoulder.
Would Manchester City’s body language betray the anguish of that damaging defeat? Had Manchester City been broken by the trauma experienced inside the hothouse of the Bernabeu? Had their defeat with victory in sight inflicted any psychological scars?
Not on this evidence. Not a bit of it.
City and Guardiola could not have delivered a more convincing response as Newcastle United were forensically picked apart, the 5-0 winning margin not only giving them a three-point advantage at the top of the table after Liverpool’s draw with Tottenham at Anfield but also giving them a goal difference that is now four better than Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Every aspect of City’s display was going to be examined in minute detail for signs of a hangover from Madrid but after some early nerves, and the survival of a chance hopelessly squandered by Newcastle United striker Chris Wood, this was a case of normal service resumed.
City were helped by Liverpool’s failure to beat an impressive Spurs on Saturday night. The window of opportunity had been opened slightly to add extra incentive in what was a tense and somewhat subdued atmosphere inside Etihad Stadium at kick-off.
Once City settled down all the questions were answered. And once Raheem Sterling headed in from Joao Cancelo’s assist in the 19th minute it was all over.
If anything, a five-goal margin was not an accurate measure of just how much better than Newcastle United they were. In one spell in the second half, City made 108 successful passes to the visitors’ zero.
This was exactly what City needed to blow any cobwebs away, helped by obliging opponents in Eddie Howe’s side, who were so poor they were not even able to successfully accomplish a damage limitation exercise.
Aymeric Laporte added a second before half-time and Rodri made it three just after the hour – but the most significant goals may yet be those added by substitute Phil Foden and Sterling in the dying moments.
City were cruising at 3-0 but, perhaps pushed by the realisation that goal difference may yet be a decisive factor in their nip-and-tuck battle with Liverpool, they ruthlessly cashed in on Newcastle’s desire for the final whistle to put them out of their misery to score those two additional goals.
Their goal difference is now superior to Liverpool’s and they have also scored more goals. Throw in Liverpool only getting a draw against Spurs and this weekend has been the perfect pick-me-up for any lingering Champions League aftershock.
Guardiola insisted City’s state of mind and body would improve by the day and this performance and result supported his judgement.
And for Jack Grealish, the subject of some criticism following the loss to Real Madrid, there was the satisfaction of heavy involvement throughout and in those two late goals for Foden and Sterling. It has been a tough first season for the £100m man but he can be well pleased with his contribution here.
Guardiola, so tortured in Madrid, looked like a man who had felt the pressure valve being released by City’s response, raising his arms to the skies to demand a standing ovation for Gabriel Jesus when he was substituted.
He pointed animatedly towards a member of his support staff when a set-piece worked to perfection after Rodri stole in on Kevin De Bruyne’s corner to make it 3-0. He pumped his fists towards City’s fans in sheer delight when Sterling scored the fifth.
Manchester City are in pole position after the weekend’s games but there will be no complacency with tough away tests to come at Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United before a final day home game against Aston Villa.
Nothing is decided yet despite their promising position – but what is certain is that everyone connected with Manchester City will feel much better about themselves after this thumping win.