EPL

Pep Perfect second goal shows Manchester City back in the groove

By Sports Desk October 19, 2019

Bernardo Silva had just set up the opening goal for Manchester City with a sumptuous cross – a suggestion that last season's form might be starting to return.

But this was no time for the Portugal playmaker to rest on his laurels and he set about harassing Crystal Palace left-winger Jeffrey Schlupp, whose pass towards the danger zone where specialist centre-backs should reside was intercepted.

Rodri's outing in the heart of the City defence was unexpected and frequently uneasy during the early stages at Selhurst Park. A slip momentarily left Wilfried Zaha unattended before a rushed, hacked clearance went unpunished.

Pep Guardiola deployed his two defensive midfield commanders. Rodri and Fernandinho, in defence due to Nicolas Otamendi joining Aymeric Laporte in the treatment room and John Stones not yet being match fit following an ailment of his own. City entered the field eight points behind Liverpool in the title race, with the decision not to replace Vincent Kompany starting to look season defining.

But if being the last line of protection against attacks does not come naturally to Rodri, he specialises in starting them. His interception from Schlupp doubled as an expertly cushioned pass to David Silva and City were away.

Kompany's successor as club captain deposited the ball at Kevin De Bruyne's feet in unfussy, one-touch fashion. Where the 2-0 loss to Wolves played out under a fug of doubt and laboured decision making, the whirring cogs of Guardiola's machine were clicking into place.

De Bruyne promptly pushed down the accelerator, powering through midfield. The Belgium star, who did not start either of City's league defeats in the opening eight games, had already proved a menace to Palace. His twinkling triangle on the right flank alongside Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo providing a persistent first half threat.

A great gift of De Bruyne's, a player on record as saying her prefers assists to goals, is he knows when to slip from leading man to supporting character. He found the opening goalscorer Gabriel Jesus.

The Brazil striker's scruffy diving header a little over a minute earlier was his fifth in as many starts for City this season. But the presence on the bench of club-record goalscorer Sergio Aguero – a man not so clinical behind the wheel on the road to training going off this week's evidence – means Jesus must always strive, always prove himself and always make the decision to please his manager.

A pass to the buccaneering Benjamin Mendy was just that. Fit again, for now, the left-back and his ravaged knees provides Guardiola with an extra dimension he will need if a third Premier League title in succession can be achieved despite early arrears.

Mendy's touch was heavy but he was fortunate to see the ball fall to Raheem Sterling, Manchester City's sure thing.

Goals 12 and 13 of the season for club and country came as England routed Bulgaria in midweek, Sterling revelling in tormenting those who send vile abuse his way.

An inspirational figure with improvement still in him – as evidenced by a couple of second-half attempts against Palace – Sterling's chipped pass over the top of the home defence was a string on his bow drawing the sweetest sound.

It was a pass worthy of David Silva, who on this occasion watched the whole picture unfold and found himself on the end of it. For all their discomfort over the early weeks of this campaign, operating without their long-time creator and magician will really sting City this time next year.

His clinical over-the-shoulder volley through Wayne Hennessey's legs was equal to many of his finest moments over a wonderful decade in the Premier League and crowned a little masterpiece. 2-0 was enough for the three points.

Second-half wastefulness and Ederson's athletic stops from Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha showed City will have to be sharper in their next Premier League away game. That's at Anfield next month, but after talking about putting his players in the fridge over Christmas, Guardiola will have seen enough in a cool, calculated gem of a goal to suggest there is life in this title race.

Related items

  • Man City working with police over alleged racial abuse in derby as Solskjaer calls for action Man City working with police over alleged racial abuse in derby as Solskjaer calls for action

    Manchester City are working with police to investigate allegations of racial abuse after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said two Manchester United players were targeted in the derby.

    During the second half of United's 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium, the visitors' midfielder Fred seemed to be hit by an object thrown from the crowd as he prepared to take a corner.

    Lighters and a plastic bottle could be seen by the corner flag while television footage appeared to show a supporter making racist gestures in the direction of Brazil international Fred and his team-mate Jesse Lingard.

    Shortly after full-time, City released a statement saying they were investigating and threatened to issue life bans to any individual found to have committed racial abuse.

    "Manchester City FC are aware of a video circulating on social media which appears to show a supporter making racial gestures during the second half of the match against Manchester United this evening," their statement read.

    "Officials from the club are working with Greater Manchester Police in order to help them identify any individuals concerned and assist with their enquiries.

    "The club are also working with GMP regarding an instance of objects being thrown onto the field of play.
     
    "The club operates a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination of any kind, and anyone found guilty of racial abuse will be banned from the club for life."

    Solskjaer confirmed he had seen the incident and he too called for anyone found guilty of such abuse to be banned from grounds for life.

    "I've seen it on video, of course," he told Sky Sports.

    "Fred and Jesse in the corner taking coins from the City fans, first of all, so they've got to go away. Then there's this not-so-intelligent fella chanting racist abuse towards my two players.

    "I hope City and the authorities will deal with it because he shouldn't be watching football again, not live anyway.

    "We have to stamp it out. We keep talking about that every single week and it's not acceptable and he should not be allowed back into grounds. That's how simple it is."

    Lingard tweeted after the match in response to footage of the alleged incident, saying: "Not even this idiot can ruin tonight's feeling, shameful behaviour, it may be the derby but there is never ever a reason to be racist!"

    Anti-racism and discrimination organisation Kick It Out said it had "been inundated with reports of alleged racist abuse from a number of individuals" and called for "swift action" to identify those responsible.

    City boss Pep Guardiola added that he supported his club's pledge to take action.

    "I think the same as the club," he told Sky Sports.

    "I support the club. We are going to work to avoid it happening again."

  • Solskjaer salutes 'a Man Utd performance in my mould' after derby triumph Solskjaer salutes 'a Man Utd performance in my mould' after derby triumph

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw Manchester United produce a terrific derby victory and said that was how he had always envisaged his team playing.

    Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial fired United to a 2-1 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

    Solskjaer told Sky Sports News: "It's a Man United performance in my mould - I love the boys going forward when there's a chance."

    It was a display comparable at times to how Alex Ferguson's great sides could pick apart defences at will, but Solskjaer is adamant this is a team of his own design.

    After a slow start to the season, his United have come alive over the past week, deservedly beating Jose Mourinho's Tottenham on Wednesday before crossing Manchester to pick off their neighbours.

    Their pace in attack left Pep Guardiola's City players standing at times, while Scott McTominay and Fred were impressive in anchoring the midfield.

    And Solskjaer was quick to point out their 2-0 lead after half an hour was far from flattering.

    He described the display as "fantastic", saying: "At the start of the game, we were exceptional, attacking every time we got the ball. It looked like we could carve them open every time.

    "We could have, should have been three, four, five up, really. That's testament to the boys because they played so well.

    "We were playing against, for me, the best coach in the world, the best team. It's so hard to play against them, players coming from everywhere, every angle.

    "We were brilliant in the first half, especially. First half an hour, excellent. Some great, quick, attacking football.

    "It wasn't just the direct ball or long ball. It was on the floor, quick transitions. I'm so pleased for the boys - they deserve it."

    Solskjaer, whose job looked to be under threat only a week ago, added: "Of course, there's a time today when we don't keep the ball as well as we could have. But we're away at the best team in the world, for me.

    "We're improving all the time. The boys are getting experiences to remember."

  • Solskjaer battles back from the brink to leave City's title defence in ruins Solskjaer battles back from the brink to leave City's title defence in ruins

    As the Christmas season unofficially began on December 1, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked anything but merry.

    Manchester United had been held to a 2-2 draw at home by promoted Aston Villa and the Red Devils' performance was utterly rancid for much of the game. Solskjaer appeared helpless at full-time.

    Ahead of a particularly bleak run of mid-winter fixtures, reports suggested Solskjaer could join Santa in expecting to be burdened with the sack for Christmas. Two games to save his job, some said, with Mauricio Pochettino looming large.

    Those two matches; Jose Mourinho's Tottenham and Manchester City in the derby – it wasn't the sleigh bells that were ringing. 

    Some might have been content with two points, yet they've managed to take six and left City's title defence in tatters after a 2-1 win over the champions.

    Much of the build-up was dominated by 'we're back' talk among both sets of supporters. City had crushed Burnley comprehensively, while United produced arguably their best display under Solskjaer in a 2-1 win over Tottenham.

    Saturday's performance left no such room for argument – it was undoubtedly the greatest of his tenure. 

    So much of the Norwegian's time at the helm has been mired by worryingly erratic form – one week they barely manage to salvage a draw against Villa, showing a concerning lack of desire, and then follow that up with a genuinely laudable performance at home to a resurgent Spurs.

    Such inconsistency has understandably led to questions over Solskjaer's game-management, with United frequently struggling against opposition that sit back despite boasting a solid record of only two defeats in 11 meetings with 'big-six' opponents and Leicester City before the derby.

    Solskjaer did little wrong on Saturday, however.

    A devastating first half an hour showed just how good this United team can be, particularly going forward.

    The fluid front three of Daniel James, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial was electric, while the much-maligned Jesse Lingard showed the kind of technique and drive not seen from him for a long, long time.

    United's strengths are by no means a secret – they are blessed with immense pace in attack and are at their best hitting teams on the counter.

    City fell into a trap entirely of United's making.

    The midfield pair of Scott McTominay and Fred sat extremely deep, while the front four also dropped well back, essentially becoming a second midfield. As such, the gap between United's defence and attack was often minimal, allowing them to break as a unit.

    The dynamism and agility of United's attack was plain to see for both goals – firstly Rashford driving into the box and winning the penalty that he converted, before James and Martial linked for the Frenchman's well-worked goal.

    But United's effectiveness was about more than just three players running really, really fast. Defensively they had several players who were imperious.

    Aaron Wan-Bissaka dealt with Raheem Sterling impressively, making five tackles and seven clearances in a fine display, while McTominay was similarly impressive. The Scotland international won possession back via three tackles, three interceptions and came out on top in 81.3 per cent of the 16 duels he was involved in.

    Added to that, Fred enjoyed his best match for United, creating two chances and showing a general awareness that could rarely be associated with the Brazilian previously. On this evidence, you can begin to understand why Pep Guardiola had been so keen to bring him to City.

    City's second-half desperation predictably saw United come under pressure and, for a moment it looked like the Red Devils would yet again cave and throw away a lead after Nicolas Otamendi pulled one back.

    But it wasn't to be.

    While reservations over Solskjaer's suitability for the role will remain as long as his team continue to falter against teams they should beat, there's no doubt in his ability to squeeze every last drop out of his players in the big games.

    And in the biggest of matches, United rose to the occasion to leave City 14 points adrift of the summit, their title hopes torn to shreds like so much festive wrapping paper. 

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.