Ster­ling adds a touch of class in City ti­tle warn­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - By James Ducker at the Eti­had Sta­dium

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

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