Manchester City 3-0 Brighton (Mahrez 53′, Foden 65′, Silva 82′)
Manchester City held their nerve to return to the top of the Premier League, thanks to goals from Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva at the Etihad last night.
But if the business end of a campaign is as much about the luck of the bounce as it is football know-how, then Pep Guardiola’s side certainly possessed that in abundance last night as well.
The second-half goals moved the defending champions back above Liverpool thanks to two shots which took huge deflections off Brighton defenders – a sure hint that this particular title race has plenty more unpredictable twists to come.
Premier League title race
1. Manchester City – Played 32, +55 GD, 77 pts
2. Liverpool – Played 32, +61 GD, 76 pts
Bernardo Silva completed an ultimately comfortable evening when Kevin De Bruyne slipped through an 81st minute pass which the Portuguese striker buried from just inside the area.
But that was the only one of the evening’s efforts that did not owe a large slice to simple good fortune.
The Liverpool win over Manchester United 24 hours earlier had plunged Guardiola’s team into unfamiliar territory, supplanted at the top of the table, for a few hours at least.
Liverpool’s remaining fixtures
Premier League games in bold
- Everton (H) – Sun 24 Apr, 4.30pm
- Villarreal (H) CL semi-final first leg – Wed 27 Apr, 8pm
- Newcastle United (A) – Sat 30 Apr, 12.30pm
- Villarreal (A) CL semi-final second leg – Tue 3, 8pm
- Tottenham (H) – Sat 7 May, 7.45pm
- Aston Villa (A) – Tue 10 May, 8pm
- Chelsea (N) FA Cup final – Sat 14 May, time TBD
- Southampton (A) – TBC (due to FA Cup final)
- Wolves (H) – Sun 22 May, 4pm
- Possible Final CL – Sat 28 May, 8pm
Only once in the previous 136 days had that happened; when Liverpool’s win over Watford had preceded City’s by a couple of hours.
But the manner of that win over United had seemed like an unofficial announcement that the title run-in has now begun for real, and City had little margin for error.
They certainly played in that manner from the off; De Bruyne full of running and ideas and Mahrez guilty of wasting one apparently inviting chance.
A terrible clearance by Brighton keeper Robert Sanchez after 16 minutes delivered the ball directly to Mahrez on the edge of the area.
But with the goal gaping, the winger controlled the ball on his chest but, rather than shooting, took an extra touch which allowed Moises Caicedo to make a smart recovering tackle.
As they so often have during this largely impressive campaign, City simply stepped up the pressure, however.
Manchester City’s remaining fixtures
- Watford (H) – Sat 23 Apr, 3pm
- Real Madrid (H) CL semi-final, first leg – Tue 26 Apr, 8pm
- Leeds United (A) – Sat 30 Apr, 5.30pm
- Real Madrid (A) CL semi-final second leg – Wed 4 May, 8pm
- Newcastle United (H) – Sun 8 May, 4.30pm
- West Ham (A) – Sun 15 May, 4.30pm
- Aston Villa (H) – Sun 22 May, 4pm
- Wolves (A) – TBC
- Possible Final CL – Sat 28 May, 8pm
De Bruyne and Foden exchanged passes after 26 minutes, allowing the Belgian an exhilarating 20-yard right-foot shot that whistled just past the Brighton goal.
And De Bruyne turned architect moments later, setting up Bernardo Silva who skilfully made space for himself before forcing Sanchez into a one-handed save in the top corner from his chipped effort.
It had been a confident start from City but now was starting to show some anxiety with poor decision making close to the Brighton goal negating some promising attacks.
Nor did it help their cause that Brighton defended in intelligent, and committed fashion; their players frequently reading the danger and putting bodies in the way in the nick of time.
When Ilkay Gundogan burst purposefully into the Brighton area after 38 minutes, he looked to have another promising opening in front of him only for Lewis Dunk to hurl his body in the way of the German’s shot.
A late first half injury to Dutch International Nathan Ake also forced Guardiola into a half-time substitution with Ruben Dias, out for seven weeks with a hamstring injury, his replacement – a timely return given City’s fixtures to come.
Perhaps it was the sight of such a familiar, influential figure back in their ranks, but City looked a more confident proposition after the restart.
Gundogan squared for Joao Cancelo whose deflected shot won a corner from which De Bruyne picked out Rodri for a volley which flew just wide after 51 minutes.
And two minutes later, City broke the deadlock after Gundogan sparked a furious counter-attack with a well-judged ball that sent De Bruyne sprinting upfield, holding off Caicedo as he went.
The Belgian was finally dispossessed, via a series of bizarre deflections and ricochets, but the ball fell kindly for Mahrez to convert his 11th league goal of the season, via yet another deflection, this one off Joel Veltman.
Even more strangely, when City doubled their lead – and, surely, put the game’s outcome beyond all reasonable doubt – after 65 minutes, the goal again involved a generous deflection off a Brighton man, albeit a solitary one on this occasion.
Gundogan’s corner found Foden, unmarked 20 yards from goal, and his shot, while hit hard enough, needed a touch by Enock Mwepu to inadvertently guide the ball past his own keeper.