Kevin De Bruyne is back from injury. So is Jeremy Doku. Erling Haaland isn’t far off, either.
The team has just been crowned the club world champion and is coming off five straight victories, scoring 17 goals in the process.
Manchester City looks in ominous shape to launch another of its trademark second-half-of-the-season spurts.
And winning at Newcastle in what has quickly become one of the toughest away trips in the Premier League really would underscore City’s status as the team to beat domestically and in Europe this season.
It’s the headline fixture in the 21st round of games that’s spread over two long weekends while England’s top-flight teams get a short winter break, which for many means a few days away for some warm-weather training.
It’s certainly the case for City, which will head to Abu Dhabi after the match at St. James’ Park on Saturday ahead of a two-week gap before the team’s next game.
By that time, City could be two points off the lead in the Premier League, still in the Champions League and FA Cup, and, crucially, with almost a fully fit squad at Pep Guardiola’s disposal.
Guardiola hasn’t had that all season, with De Bruyne missing since getting injured on the opening day of the Premier League. He marked his return after five months out by making an encouraging cameo as a substitute in the 5-0 win over Huddersfield in the FA Cup on Sunday — it naturally included an assist — and the ovation he received by City’s fans showed just how much of a favorite he is at the club, where he has spent the past 8 1/2 years.
De Bruyne feels his time away from the game could ultimately benefit his career.
“Playing the last 10 years non-stop with a short break, maybe it was good for me to reset a little bit in a way and take care of myself,” the Belgium midfielder said.
“I enjoyed it in a way. At the beginning it was a big blow but I knew I was going to be out for four or five months so after the first reaction I thought to myself I needed to work hard when I’m working and then I could enjoy the things that I’ve not been able to do with my family and friends.”
That meant going on holiday, taking his kids to their sports training, and watching them play games.
“When you have three kids between three and seven, I’m basically a taxi driver,” De Bruyne said.
Now the Premier League’s master of assists hopes to steer City to more trophies, following up the team’s league-FA Cup-Champions League treble of last season.
Doku also made his return against Huddersfield, scoring off De Bruyne’s cross, and will give an extra, off-the-cuff dimension to City’s attack.
As for Haaland, he hasn’t played since Dec. 6 because of a foot injury but has returned to training, with Guardiola careful not to rush his top scorer back too quickly.
The Newcastle game is expected to come too soon for Haaland while De Bruyne has said he’ll likely be on the bench again at St. James’ Park. City has been looking solid and compact without its two attacking stars, however, and the same cannot be said of Newcastle, which lost 4-1 to Liverpool in its last league match — a defeat that could have been much heavier — and was beaten 3-1 by Nottingham Forest the last time the Saudi-owned Magpies played at home.
Beating Newcastle would still mark a big moment for third-place City on a weekend when Liverpool, the current league leader, is inactive. Jurgen Klopp’s team doesn’t play until Jan. 21, at Bournemouth.
Aston Villa, which is in second place, is away to Everton on Sunday and can go level on points with Liverpool with a victory.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer