Easter pro­ces­sion

Je­sus among the scor­ers – and Guardi­ola’s men will se­cure ti­tle on Satur­day if they beat ri­vals United

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Jim White at Good­i­son Park

No won­der Manch­ester City’s trav­el­ling hordes were singing Pep Guardi­ola’s name at the end of this sump­tu­ous dis­man­tling of a pedes­trian Ever­ton.

With the ac­crual of yet an­other three points, Guardi­ola has of­fered up his club’s sup­port­ers the most de­li­cious pos­si­bil­ity: next Satur­day they can not only win the Pre­mier League, they can do so against their Man­cu­nian ri­vals.

Beat­ing United to se­cure the ti­tle: it was some­thing not even the most fer­vent blue would have dared dream about when their team was in League One less than two decades ago. Not to men­tion that be­fore they will be play­ing Liver­pool in the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nals.

“Now we are closer than ever, to­day was so, so good,” said Guardi­ola. “But all de­ci­sions we are go­ing to take now are about Liver­pool. United can wait.”

This vic­tory was all the more up­lift­ing be­cause Guardi­ola had ar­rived at Good­i­son fac­ing an odd sta­tis­ti­cal quirk: un­til to­day, Ever­ton were the only Pre­mier League team he had not de­feated. More­over, it was here last Jan­uary that he suf­fered his worst de­feat as a man­ager, los­ing 4-0.

The sug­ges­tion be­fore kick-off was this might be the place that slowed down his march to as­cen­dancy. Such as­ser­tions did not last long. Never mind il­le­gal tam­per­ing, or a gen­er­ous ap­pli­ca­tion of sand­pa­per, this City side ap­pear to have the ball hyp­no­tised.

Within mo­ments of the kick-off, Guardi­ola’s team be­gan to un­leash their in­tri­cate pass­ing move­ments as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Ra­heem Ster­ling ex­changed seem­ingly radar-as­sisted onet­wos. No more than four min­utes had elapsed be­fore Aymeric La­porte, drafted in at left-back, re­versed a lovely pass to the by­line. Silva gal­loped for­ward, gath­ered the ball and sent it fizzing to the back post, where Leroy Sane volleyed home.

“Now you’re gonna be­lieve us, we’re go­ing to win the league,” chanted the vis­it­ing fans. In truth, it has not taken the great­est act of faith to be­lieve the ti­tle has been head­ing in the di­rec­tion of the Eti­had since the early days of the sea­son.

What has been upped in the 14 months since Guardi­ola suf­fered his record de­feat is pre­ci­sion. For City every­thing now moves with a well-oiled cer­tainty. Ev­ery­one knows where each other is. Space is con­jured out of the tight­est of cir­cum­stance. Plus th­ese days, in Eder­son, they have a goal­keeper rather than an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen that was Clau­dio Bravo.

For sure, Ever­ton had chances: Do­minic Calvert-Lewin ac­cel­er­ated to the by­line and put over a fine cross which Yan­nick Bo­lasie headed over. But some­how even to demon­strate re­sis­tance was to pro­voke the vis­i­tors. Af­ter that chance was squan­dered, City broke from the goal kick, the ball find­ing its way to De Bruyne to the side of the Ever­ton area. So many col­leagues had charged for­ward with him, he ap­peared to have half a dozen pur­ple shirts to find. He chose Gabriel Je­sus, who put City two up af­ter 12 min­utes.

By now a rip­ple of alarm was shud­der­ing through the stands every time City eased for­wards. You could un­der­stand why. In cen­tral mid­field Wayne Rooney and Mor­gan Sch­nei­der­lin were of­fer­ing all the re­sis­tance of a pair of traf­fic cones, passed round at will.

City were now in demon­stra­tion mode, mov­ing the ball for­ward at pace, their pres­sure re­lent­less. First Silva forced Jor­dan Pick­ford to save, then Ster­ling fired wide. In com­par­i­son, Ever­ton looked laboured: the free­kick that Leighton Baines, mak­ing his 400th Pre­mier League ap­pear­ance, fired just wide seemed a to­tal ir­rel­e­vance. As City passed and moved, when the ball fell to a blue shirt they seemed clue­less of what best to do with it. At one point Calvert-Lewin bal­looned for­ward a hi­tand-hope pass to Cenk To­sun in the urge to re­lieve the pres­sure. The Turk could do noth­ing with his hoof.

This was not a con­test, it was a hu­mil­i­a­tion. There were empty seats ap­pear­ing in the Sir Philip Carter stand as early as half an hour in, as Ever­ton fans in num­bers evac­u­ated the scene of em­bar­rass­ment. So at least they missed the third City goal scored be­fore half­time, when an­other jet-heeled coun­ter­at­tack re­sulted in Silva cross­ing for Ster­ling to fire home. And there was no com­fort for the fans bel­low­ing that Silva was off­side as he broke through un­mo­lested by any Ever­ton in­ter­fer­ence. Re­plays showed he was not gifted any un­fair ad­van­tage by a sleepy lines­man: he was just way too quick in thought and ap­pli­ca­tion for any­one in blue.

Jur­gen Klopp’s scouts at Good­i­son at least will have an idea from the first half what not to do when Liver­pool play City next week. Do not, for in­stance al­low Silva the free­dom of Stanley Park; do not sit back and hope some­thing might hap­pen; do not try to stop a ti­dal wave by de­ploy­ing in cen­tral mid­field a su­per­an­nu­ated con­verted striker and the one Southamp­ton player Liver­pool did not con­sider worth buy­ing.

And as the sec­ond half be­gan, the pat­tern was main­tained. Pick­ford was re­quired to make a su­perb one-handed save from Fer­nand­inho’s shot, then Ster­ling fired a per­fect cross in front of the Ever­ton goal, but no­body could con­vert.

But the ar­rival of Tom Davies, re­plac­ing Rooney, of­fered the vaguest of hope to the crowd. On the 63rd minute he did some­thing none of his col­leagues had man­aged: he put in a tackle. The ball broke to Calvert-Lewin, who found Bo­lasie on the edge of the City area. His shot squirmed past Eder­son, off the post and into the net.

Not that Guardi­ola looked alarmed about the pos­si­bil­ity of the most un­ex­pected of come­backs. He knew he could rely on his players to main­tain pos­ses­sion, keep Ever­ton at arm’s length, en­sure no dis­as­ter would en­sue. There was a sense of his cer­tainty when he sub­sti­tuted De Bruyne to con­serve en­ergy for more im­por­tant Mersey­side ap­point­ments ahead. The Bel­gian re­ceived a size­able ova­tion from the home crowd. At Good­i­son they ap­pre­ci­ate class. Though Guardi­ola joked there may have been an­other mo­tive.

“Maybe it is be­cause we are about to play Liver­pool,” he smiled.

On a roll: Je­sus cel­e­brates scor­ing Manch­ester City’s sec­ond goal at Good­i­son Park yes­ter­day, keep­ing Pep Guardi­ola’s side 16 points clear of Manch­ester United at the top of the Pre­mier League ta­ble

One, two, three: Leroy Sane (top), Gabriel Je­sus (bot­tom left) and Ra­heem Ster­ling (bot­tom right) score for Manch­ester City as man­ager Pep Guardi­ola looks on (in­set)

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