Do Man City really need Pogba? De Bruyne and Gundogan star to take control of title race

Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 2021-22Getty Images

Match statistics: Manchester City 5-0 Newcastle

If Paul Pogba was watching Manchester City dismantle Newcastle on Sunday, he would likely have been thinking one of two things.

Possibly, 'I want a part of that,' as Pep Guardiola's side took a step closer to a fourth Premier League title in five seasons with a brilliant performance.

Alternatively, Pogba may have wondered if opportunities at the Etihad Stadium could be difficult to come by, with their already sublime midfield the ticking heartbeat for the defending champions.

The Manchester United star has emerged as a shock transfer target for City when he becomes available on a free transfer at the end of the season.

But the players he would then be battling with for a starting berth provided the perfect checklist of what would be required across the city for a superstar that has largely disappointed in six underwhelming years down the road at Old Trafford.

Ilkay Gundogan Manchester City 2021-22
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With the potential for City's season to come crashing down after their heartbreaking Champions League defeat at Real Madrid in midweek, Pep Guardiola received the perfect response.

Ilkay Gundogan, whose place might be placed most under threat by the arrival of a player such as Pogba, epitomised City's desire inside the opening minutes, when he matched the lightning quick Allan Saint-Maximin in a 40-yard foot race as the Newcastle winger threatened to escape.

But it was at the other end where the Germany international was most influential, on a day when the tension of the title race was never allowed to grow.

First, Gundogan's perfect crossfield pass picked out Joao Cancelo, who coolly nodded into the path of Raheem Sterling to score the crucial opener.

Then, his drilled 20-yard volley proved too much for Martin Dubravka, and the goalkeeper's spill was eventually turned in by Aymeric Laporte for City's second.

Alongside him, Kevin De Bruyne, who was strangely unproductive in midweek, was not going to let a second game pass him by.

The Belgium star was back to his best, picking out impossible passes and driving at the Newcastle defence to open up attacking channels.

Behind him, Rodri helped shut down the Newcastle threat before he and De Bruyne combined for City's third, the Spain midfielder heading in a corner at the near post.

Rodri Manchester City 2021-22
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Those performances may well have given Pogba food for thought, and that is without mentioning Bernardo Silva, who was City's best performer at Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Then there is also Phil Foden, whose long-term future is likely to come as a more central attacking midfielder rather than a winger, with Guardiola seeing the 21-year-old as a player who has limitless potential.

The City boss was able to rest both Bernardo and Foden on Sunday, with difficult trips to Wolves and West Ham to follow in the next seven days before his side's final game of the season at home to Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa.

It shows the Catalan's deep trust in the charisma and character of his squad, something that has been questioned of Pogba at club level, despite his success and undoubted quality when playing for the France national team.

Make no mistake, Guardiola needed a response from his players if his side were to maintain control of the title race.

In another manic performance from his technical area, he cajoled, applauded, encouraged and directed them for the best part of an hour until the game was effectively won, but they already knew what was required.

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With three fixtures remaining, they now have the safety net of being able to draw one game and still hold off the threat from Liverpool, while two late strikes by Foden and Sterling strengthened their goal difference safety net should City lose a match in the next fortnight.

And so while Pogba contemplates his next move, City and their midfield superstars are focused solely on Molineux and winning on Wednesday.

The thought of added competition in 2022-23 is unlikely to faze them now.