City make the most of momentum
If it hadn’t been clear from the game in West London, the early minutes against Brentford at the Etihad confirmed that this would be about as much fun as pulling teeth for Manchester City.
The visitors were disciplined and resolute, determined to be as difficult as possible for the Blues to break down and to aggressively swarm their opponents when the opportunities arose.
For about half-an-hour the game plan neutralized City’s attack, with no real chances of note, before the champions began to work better chances. Joao Cancelo blasted over on his weaker foot from him, Aymeric Laporte shot wide of the post, and then Raheem Sterling earned a penalty that Riyad Mahrez converted-all in the space of ten minutes.
Pep Guardiola had spent much of the half frustrated, yet went in at half-time happy that his team had achieved two football fundamentals: scoring when you are on top and being clinical. Their only shot on target of the first half went in to recognize their improvement and spoil the efforts of their opponents up to that point.
Stones audition for Lisbon
With Kyle Walker suspended for the next three Champions League matches as it stands – although City are belatedly appealing the decision – Guardiola will not have a straightforward option for the first leg of the last-16 game next week.
Aleks Zinchenko impressed in the knockout rounds last season but John Stones started at right-back here and completed a fairly successful audition if the manager wants to go down this route instead. The England international cannot offer the roaming runs or speedy defensive cover that Walker offers, but he was confident and calm on the ball moving up the pitch, as well as being able to seamlessly fold into a back three when Cancelo pushed forward.
Guardiola kept returning to Stones in his post-match interviews as he raved about him. Unless there is some kind of 4-D chess going on to confuse Sporting, it certainly sounds like Stones could be an option.
The whole ten yards
Brentford were praised for their set-piece work before the game by Guardiola and their dedication to defending City corners was right on the edge of the laws.
Every time the Blues would go to take one, the players and the home fans would have to remind the officials to stop encroachment from the Brentford players and make sure they were a full 10 yards away from the ball as they looked to prevent a short corner .
To go into that level of detail shows what a task City had on their hands as Brentford did everything they possibly could to limit City opportunities and maximize their own.
Twelve points clear
Liverpool have two games in hand on the leaders, but 12 points is a big gap to make up on any team, let alone one who has dropped two points in their last 42.
For anyone that saw Southampton as dropped points, this was a perfect response from Guardiola’s side as they again turn the screw on their closest rivals.
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