It has been a while since Manchester City have been asked to make up significant ground on their neighbours from across town. It would be a huge surprise if they have forgotten how to do it.
Here Pep Guardiola’s team moved within four points of Premier League leaders Manchester United and they have a game in hand. If United were under any illusion that champions Liverpool remain their most significant obstacle between the most surprising title win for years, they should not be.
City’s season has been a strange one so far. They have lacked fluency and potency, for sure. For example, a centre forward has not scored a goal for them in the league since November.
Manchester City climbed back into the top four of the Premier League with a 1-0 victory
Phil Foden scored the decisive goal just before the break with a superb finish from 20 yards
Foden’s goal came as a relief to City after a first half that had seen them dominate play
But all that matters now is that they are improving and they are in touch. If United have come from nowhere to poke their noses ahead at the top, then City have emerged on the back of better form also.
This was their seventh consecutive win in all competitions and they were good for it. Phil Foden was the only player who managed to beat Brighton’s outstanding Spanish goalkeeper Robert Sanchez – Raheem Sterling missing a penalty in added time – and Brighton were the team asking the questions for much of the closing moments.
But this was a victory that City deserved and with Gabriel Jesus coming on as a substitute here and Sergio Aguero also fit again, they are only likely to grow more dangerous from this point of the season on.
Sadly in these strange times, some questions may be asked of City’s goal celebrations. As many as eight City players rushed to surround Foden despite urgings to the contrary this week from the Premier League. It will take a while for that message to sink it in seems.
Kevin de Bruyne caused Brighton problems in the match but couldn’t beat Robert Sanchez
The hosts dominated possession at the Etihad but Brighton remained tough to break down
In terms of the play, Foden’s goal came as a relief to City after a first half that had seen them dominate play without always looking that dangerous.
Brighton had defended well and hadn’t been without ambition themselves. Their problem during the time manager Graham Potter has been at the club has been scoring goals. Nobody ever takes Brighton for fools but they simply don’t win enough game. Before this they had drawn eight Premier League games, the most in the division. Strangely, Liverpool are next with six.
The first goal was a good one and it was not surprising that Kevin de Bruyne was at the heart of it. One the team see the Belgian had been listed as City’s nominal centre forward for the night but that didn’t transpire to be the case. De Bruyne was all over the place, in a good way.
With just a minute or left before half-time, the 30-year-old appeared on the left side and fed Foden just inside him. Foden’s first touch with his left foot was lovely and immediately took him inside Adam Webster and in to space on the edge of the penalty area.
This was City’s seventh consecutive win in all competitions and they were good for it
There was still much to do. Defenders were closing in and Brighton goalkeeper Sanchez was well placed. Foden’s right foot shot was well placed, however, and just powerful enough to beat Sanchez low to his right.
Prior to that, Sanchez had looked pretty much unbeatable. He has done well since replacing Matt Ryan – a big call from Potter – and needed to be at his best here.
Perhaps his best save of the opening half arrived in the 14th minute. De Bruyne played a one-two with Ilkay Gundogan and beat the Brighton offside trap to be through on goal. Sanchez got his angles right and saved with his legs.
There was another decent effort to deny De Bruyne after a stunning length of the field move not long before Foden’s goal. Ederson caught the ball from Brighton’s only corner of the half – City had seven – and thrust it in to the path of De Bruyne who raced upfield, played a ball to Foden, took it off him again and shot low from just inside the box. That would have been some goal.
Brighton were the team asking the questions for much of the closing moments
Other moments of danger came and went for Brighton. An indirect free kick conceded by the goalkeeper was blocked by the midfielder Alexis MacAllister, who was having a good game, while a far post cross from De Bruyne – who else ? was hooked clear by Bernardo as Riyad Mahrez closed in with intent.
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
MANCHESTER CITY: (4-3-3) Ederson 6; Cancelo 7.5, Stones 7, Dias 7, Zinchenko 6.5; Gundogan 6.5, Rodri 6.5, Silva 6; Mahrez 6 (Jesus 66mins 6) , De Bruyne 8.5, Foden 7 (Sterling 81mins 5). Not used: Steffen, Walker,Torres, Mendy, Fernandinho, Harwood-Bellis, Mbete.
GOALS: Foden 44
PEP GUARDIOLA: 7
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION: (3-4-2-1) Sanchez 8; Webster 7, Dunk 7, Burn 7; Veltman 7, White 7, Propper 6.5 (March 67mins 6), Bernardo 6.5; Tau 7 (Maupay 67mins 6), MacAllister 6.5; Trossard 7. Not used: Walton, Gross, Zeqiri, Sanders, Jenks, Weir, Khadra
BOOKED: Veltman, Webster
GRAHAM POTTER: 6.5
REFEREE: Darren England
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin de Bruyne
With Gundogan also sweeping a first time shot wide from a corner, this was a half that offered City much. But Brighton were not overrun. This was no siege. When they could break, they did so quite well and just needed a sharp final pass or piece of individual skill in front of goal to bring them something.
One run and cross down the left from Leonardo Trossard was volleyed over by Joel Veltman – only a half chance – while Trossard himself curled a shot wide. It was a night when some of Danny Welbeck’s pace or Adam Lallana’s cleverness would have been handy but both were once again absent injured.
Nothing much changed in the second half. Brighton remained capable of making progress up to a point and began to take a few more risks as time passed. Meanwhile Sanchez continued to stand between City and a more comfortable night.
Mahrez should have scored when played through by Joao Cancelo almost immediately after the break and then Sanchez suddenly got very busy indeed.
His low save from Gundogan was decent and he managed to push the ball away from immediate danger. But when Bernardo Silva took possession and beat a player, he crashed a shot against the angle of post and bar from about 12 yards.
Almost immediately De Bruyne ran from deep and show low from 18 yards. Again Sanchez was up to it as he was almost immediately afterwards when Cancelo tested him. With 25 minutes to go, City really should have been further ahead but the fact they were still in touch understandably encouraged Brighton and they started to trouble City with some football that carried a little more penetration.
Sadly for them they still couldn’t find a real goal threat and in injury time City should have made things a little more secure. Sanchez rushed out impetuously to fell De Bruyne but Sterling lashed the penalty over the bar.