Gabriel Jesus scored a brace and Kevin De Bruyne made his Premier League return for the first time this calendar year as Manchester City comfortably swept aside 10-man Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0. After allowing an early goal, Wolves evening went from bad to worse when centerback Willy Boly was sent off in the 19th minute.
It was Wolves’ first red card of the season in any competition.
With the win, Manchester City moves to within four points of Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table, as the title race heats up this frosty January.
Controlling the tempo early, Manchester City showed that the club’s recent form, with 16 goals scored in the last two cup matches, could carry over into the Premier League. In the 10th minute, it only took three touches for Man City to go from the backline to the back of the net.
Aymeric Laporte split the Wolves backline with a brilliant pass down the left channel, right into the run of Leroy Sane. Sane played a one-time pass across the face of goal, providing Jesus with a perfect pass that he re-directed home sliding towards the goal.
While Wolves had a pair of half-chances following the goal, the match became just about out of hand in the 19th minute. Boly, in trying to win the ball off Bernardo Silva, slid in with his studs up, going through Silva in the process. Boly was quickly shown a red card, putting his team in a real hole.
Manchester City continued to attack in the first half as time went by, and in the 39th minute, the Cityzens got their just rewards. Silva played Sterling into the box, and after beating his defender, Ryan Bennett, the latter pulled down Sterling to set up a penalty kick. Jesus stepped up and sent Rui Patricio the wrong way for a 2-0 lead.
The second half was more of the same, with Man City dominating possession, holding the ball for 75 percent of the time while looking for another goal. Once de Bruyne was brought on for David Silva, a new attacking dimension was added. It ended up leading to Man City’s third goal of the night, as defender Conor Coady turned in a darting cross from de Bruyne in the 78th minute.
Manchester City did the really hard part of reinserting themselves into the Premier League title race — beating leaders Liverpool to cut the Reds’ lead to just four points — but now comes the next challenge for Pep Guardiola‘s side: maintaining that same level of performance in every single game for the next five months so as to, at a minimum, match Liverpool stride for stride, just to remain within four points.
Since their top-of-the-table showdown with Liverpool, City have put together two of the most lopsided results you’re bound to see all season — albeit against vastly inferior Cup competition. A 7-0 victory over Rotherham United (Championship) in the FA Cup, followed by a 9-0 demolition of League One side Burton Albion in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals, has the defending champions overflowing with confidence once again, and at just the right time.
On the other side, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side is riding the roller coaster that is a newly promoted club’s first season back in the PL. Wolves have won back-to-back games in four times this season, while also enduring a six-game winless skid that featured five defeats.
What they’re saying
Man City midfielder Bernardo Silva: “(The) win (over Liverpool) was super important, particularly because it was against the leaders and we must show that we are chasing after the title. Our team has great experience. Each one of us has won and lost games and we know how to react to defeats. That’s why, when we’re at the very top, we don’t think we’re the best in the world and when we’re very low, we don’t see that we are the worst. … We are certainly going to give our best in order to keep the higher level.”
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo: “It’s not about who you face, it’s about what you want to put on the pitch, your idea, the way you want to develop. It’s how you want to grow and how you want to do things on the pitch, that’s the philosophy we try. It’s about the approach. … I know the reality of the game, the reality of football. … They are a very good team, one of the best in the world, so there’s no doubt on Monday they’re going to be as good as they always are.”
City didn’t put in that kind of effort and performance against Liverpool just to throw it all away and had the title over their next time out in league play. Don’t be surprised when they look like the City of 2017-18 the next few weeks or months, and that’s a frightening proposition for Wolves.
*record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I got here. Let me explain.
The first tweet above refers to a goal Jermaine Defoe scores for Sunderland (remember them?) on the opening day of the 2016/17 season. Manchester City won the game 2-1, but it wasn’t Stones’ best moment since arriving at Manchester City just four days prior. Jack Rodwell receives the ball about 23 yards from goal, and Stones steps to close him down, leaving acres of space behind him. Bacary Sagna (remember him?) does poorly to stay with his man Defoe, but the Sunderland poacher immediately occupies the space vacated by Stones and scores on the through-ball which the England defender fails to prevent.
Mistakes like this were all too common for Stones, who cost a heaping $64 million from Everton. He was still just 21 years old at the time, and looked completely lost. He was billed as a defender who could play with the ball at his feet and thus would fit perfectly into Pep Guardiola‘s system. Man City’s own club release announcing the signing referred to him as “one of the world’s most promising centre backs” and specifically mentioned “Stones has built a reputation as a ball-playing, 21st century defender, equally adept at neutralizing opposition attacks as launching the first key pass out of the defensive third.”
None of that was evident at the start. I jumped to conclusions.
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle features just two words: Pep Guardiola.
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end of this story is not yet written, but there is an outline for sure. John Stones, the bumbling 21-year-old who made countless positional mistakes and looked hopelessly lost in Pep Guardiola’s system, is now one of the world’s best central defenders. No, that’s not a hyperbole. He’s a strong Team of the Season candidate and one of the first names on the teamsheet of one of the Premier League’s best-ever constructed squads. Adding to the resume, he was a critical member of England’s World Cup squad that made the semifinals.
Case in point, his performance against Liverpool, which was fabulous. First, the obvious: Stones completed 94/99 passes, was a perfect 9-of-9 clearing the ball, won both his aerial duels, was not dispossessed once, and helped keep Roberto Firmino to a generally minimal threat, with the Brazilian’s goal only coming while he was marked by Vincent Kompany.
To dig a little deeper, here’s just one more fine-tuned reason why Pep loves Stones. This astute find from Statsbomb writer Nico Morales shows how his vision has not just improved, but taken a leap of faith.
The line from Stones to Laporte is pretty telling. Salah did somewhat of a bad job shutting off the pass behind him and Stones is at least part god. https://t.co/zeXz6novwR
Nico is exactly right. Stones connected with left-back Aymeric Laporte seven times in the game, all switches of play from Stones at RCB to Laporte on the left flank. That pass is vital to Manchester City as they look to break Liverpool’s press. That pass is meant to be taken away by the high positioning of the striker (in this case, as Morales points out, Salah), but Stones managed to find it anyways. In addition, Stones found Leroy Sane on the left flank three times, an even more difficult alleyway to navigate.
In addition, Stones no longer makes the positional mistakes we became so numb to his freshman year at the Etihad. Last year during their dominant title run, Manchester City conceded a league-low 27 goals through the 38 matches, and while Stones struggled that campaign with injuries, he put in nine full-90 minute performances in Premier League play, six of which finished in clean sheets.
Stones’ most notable play of the Liverpool match was a perfect encapsulation of his career path at Manchester City. After being admittedly beaten by Sadio Mane, he put enough pressure on the Liverpool winger to (together with a charging Ederson) force him into hitting the post. Stones then attempted to clear the ball by clattering it straight into Ederson’s body, looping the ball towards his own net. He then rushed back to clear the ball off the line, literally millimeters (11 of them, to be exact) from the game’s first goal.
He’s not the sexiest player on the field. In the win over Liverpool, Bernardo Silva got plenty of (deserved) plaudits for running his absolute socks off (he ran the furthest distance of any player in any Premier League match this season). Sergio Aguero scored a ridiculous(ly important) goal. Leroy Sane’s winner came from a moment of far-post ingenuity. Even Vincent Kompany was lauded for his hard work, his clearing ability, and his physical tenacity that nearly netted him a sending off. Stones, on the other hand, plods along doing the little things that help the Man City Machine continue to churn. It’s not even dirty work – which often earns recognition in its own right (see: Silva, Bernardo) – it’s just plain old work.
While many consider Raheem Sterling‘s development as Pep Guardiola’s most impressive individual coaching job at Manchester City – and there’s a good argument to be made there – it is of this writer’s belief that Guardiola’s crowning achievement thus far at City is the building of The Stones Wall. From 21-year-old project (a “poor buy” as one nameless dope put it) to 24-year-old superstar, John Stones has truly developed into one of the world’s best central defenders, and there’s still room to grow.
MANCHESTER — As the final whistle blew at the Etihad Stadium, the roars of delight into the crisp, clear night sky proved that new life had been breathed into the Premier League title race.
The 90 minutes of action between Manchester City and Liverpool was of the highest quality and was one of the most gripping encounters in recent memory.
The atmosphere crackled throughout and it felt like a cup final. Pep Guardiola said afterwards that “it was a final for us because lose and it was almost over. Now it is tight again.” His team showed incredible hunger, something they haven’t had week in, week out this season, and outworked Liverpool to secure victory.
The pace was incredible. Players set new records for distance covered this season. Managers clashed with officials on the sidelines. The tension was palpable. So much was on the line, especially for City, that every miscue, every chance, was jeered and cheered in equal measure.
All of this happened after a gruelling set of festive fixtures over the past two weeks. It was utterly gladiatorial and was unquestionably the Premier League at its very best.
Manchester City beat Liverpool 2-1 to handle the latter their first defeat of the league season and with 17 games remaining City are now just four points behind the current leaders.
Game on for the rest of the season. And this game lived up to the hype.
These two teams are clearly the best two teams in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are master tacticians who have created winning machines. Guardiola and Klopp lavished praised on each other before this game and both teams went out to win, and could have, in an intense, beautiful battle.
“We reduce the gap, still four points is enough points to be calm but it is a good moment to congratulate and say thank you to these incredible players,” Guardiola said afterwards. “Today they show how good they are, they play against an incredible team. It was a good spectacle and both teams play to win.”
Something had to give. In the end, it was the posts at one of end the pitch which blew this title race open.
Sadio Mane‘s first half shot hit the post and was hacked off the line by John Stones. Leroy Sane’s shot hit the other post late on and pinged into the other corner of the net to hand City victory.
“Pretty intense, eh?” smiled Klopp. “It had wild moments, both teams obviously have a lot of respect for each other and yeah, we played better games but we took the intensity today and I thought at the end City had more situations where they controlled the game but we had these moments as well. Not as long or often as City, but it is an away game so that is absolutely okay. At the end you can say the post in or post out can make a massive difference.”
Vincent Kompany could well have seen red in the first half for his lunging tackle on Mohamed Salah. City took the lead after a moment of brilliance from Sergio Aguero. We had Stones’ amazing clearance with a slither of the ball not over the line. Fernandinho crunching into tackles. Bernardo Silva covering every blade of grass. Amazing saves and poor decisions from both Ederson and Alisson. Late goalmouth scrambles as Liverpool pushed for a killer equalizer. Rapid City counters as they tried to seal the win.
It was the Premier League at is breathtaking, dizzying best and the best thing about a Man City win was this: we will now get to see both teams involved in massive games between now and May knowing any slip-up will render their previous efforts pointless.
The title race is well and truly on and we are all the big winners from Man City’s deserved, encapsulating win.