Sterling adds a touch of class in City title warning
Even at a club where the bar has been set so high, it will not always be sweetness and light. There are times when even the best have to dig deep and that is what Manchester City did against an obdurate Bournemouth.
This was not a performance to leave anyone starry eyed, but after a gruelling midweek assignment against Lyon in the Champions League, a weakened City came through a tough examination with their 100 per cent Premier League home record intact, and in turn, intensified the pressure on their title rivals. The gap at the top is now five points, and Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will go into the Merseyside and north London derbies respectively today with that lingering at the back of their minds. Focus on yourselves and hope, at the same time, that you can demoralise your rivals.
This was the message from manager Pep Guardiola. “That is what we want to show our contenders – it is the most important thing in sport,” he said.
There was certainly a late flourish from City, with David Silva coming off the bench to help inspire a classic third goal for Ilkay Gundogan in tandem with man-of-the-match Leroy Sane.
But this victory was more a triumph for perseverance than anything else after Callum Wilson had cancelled out Bernardo Silva’s early goal. Guardiola is often described as a purist, but it was telling that the City manager took as much, if not more, satisfaction out of the way his team clawed their way back in front and saw out a gritty game than some of their demolitions.
Gabriel Jesus again struggled in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero, and a midfield minus Silva (mostly) and Kevin De Bruyne lacked rhythm. But there was still enough talent and determination there to win out. Raheem Sterling grabbed the decisive second after taking the bull by the horns, sniffing out a goal that offered another reminder of just how the England forward’s predatory instincts have improved under Guardiola, before Gundogan applied the coup de grace for that joyous third.
Guardiola has been a much calmer Raheem Sterling is the first player in Premier League history to score in his first six games against one opponent.
17 Oct 2015 Man City 5-1 Bmth - figure on the touchline this season, but as City’s control began to evaporate the longer the first half went on, he cut a more agitated figure and did not look too surprised when Bournemouth equalised. It was only the second goal City have conceded from open play this term.
Bournemouth worked the ball from left to right via Josh King and Lewis Cook with barely a snip at the heels, and Simon Francis had far too much time to cross left-footed. It was a peach of a ball, and Wilson outjumped Danilo and Nicolas Otamendi to power a header into the top corner for his seventh league goal of the campaign. That is as many as Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane and Eden Hazard. Quite the company the centre-forward is keeping.
City had begun at such a pace, using Sane’s speed to exploit the space in behind the right side of Bournemouth’s defence, that you feared for Eddie Howe’s team. But City struggled to build on those rich beginnings, their momentum expiring after Bernardo scored when Asmir Begovic was slow to meet Oleksandr Zinchenko’s long pass and, under pressure from Sane, could not clear, allowing Bernardo to ram home the loose ball. “Today I have a weapon. I can say, ‘Remember those 20 minutes in the first half, we were not good enough,’” Guardiola said.
It was clear City needed a catalyst. Sane had rampaged up and down the left, charging 70 yards at one point to win the ball back and prove he is adept going both ways, but the German needed assistance. Step forward Sterling. He had given Bournemouth a warning when he wove through five players before his deflected shot hit a post. But forewarned does not mean forearmed and Sterling soon scored. Spotting Danilo on the overlap, Sterling slipped the ball in to the Brazilian. Danilo’s shot was spilt by Begovic before bouncing off Nathan Ake and in front of Sterling, who had continued his run to slot home the rebound.
Breathing space finally came with the third. When Sane’s corner was cleared, the German picked up the ball again, passed to Silva and made a dart for it. He just knew the ball was coming back and so it did, allowing Sane to square for Gundogan to slot home. Over to you, Liverpool and Spurs.
On the rebound: Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring Manchester City’s second goal to restore their lead