This game was all about the number 10. City’s 3-1 win over Swansea City was their tenth victory of the season, Sergio Agüero, wearing the number 10 jersey, scored two of the three goals – his 10th and 11th goals of the season, and without granting Kevin De Bruyne sufficient breathing room in the number 10 role, Pep Guardiola’s team are a slightly less threatening proposition.
When İlkay Gündoğan and David Silva were named alongside the Belgian, supporters wriggled with excitement. De Bruyne seemed to squirm. It was a bit like watching three strangers arriving at the doors of a packed tram at the same time, gesturing politely to one another to go first until the doors shut and leave all three looking like planks. De Bruyne’s influence in the first half was smothered by the sheer amount of players grappling for the same space as him, and despite including its three most creative individuals, Guardiola’s team looked a little confused for the first time this term. After all, what’s the use in being sandwiched between two supermodels if you can’t breathe?
Back in the team after serving a three-game ban and given all the freedom in the world, however, was Sergio Agüero who netted his 10th goal in six games just nine minutes into his return to action. Receiving a Bacary Sagna cross, the Argentine sending Swansea’s Jordi Amat back to Spain with a bamboozling first touch and slammed a low effort past Łukasz Fabiański.
City are yet to experience what going a goal down feels like under Guardiola, but were forced into a more reactive style of football when Swansea equalised just four minutes later. Capitalising on a slip from Sagna, veteran Spanish striker Fernando Llorente brought down Gylfi Sigurðsson’s flick and launched a brilliant half-volley into the top corner of Claudio Bravo’s net. Swansea, with their manager Francesco Guidolin reportedly facing the sack if they could not muster a more encouraging performance against the league’s 1st placed side, were hounding their opponents well and deserved their goal.
As if offended by Swansea’s spirited fightback, City counter-attacked with aggression. There were chips from Silva and flicks from Sterling that set the vine makers and the creepy diagram illustrators to work, but all in all, there was too much hesitation in the 18-yard-box. City were trying for the perfect goal, but playing with the swagger that suggested there was no real fear of paying for their indecision in front of the net. We don’t care for how confident you are, just put the ball in the back of the net, lads.
We improved in the second half when Sterling was moved to the chalk and De Bruyne into the middle. Now the football was fluent and Sterling twice had the chance to put us back in front with assistance from the deft right foot of De Bruyne. But there’s no in between with Raheem this term: you either get a whole lot of pissing around or a piece of brilliance. Unfortunately, early in this second half, it was the former.
De Bruyne would be the man to get City back in front though when his face met the elbow of Mike van der Hoorn in the penalty area. The Dutchman protested, but replays showed that the motion was deliberate. Up stepped Agüero to Panenka in his 11th of the season, the cheeky bastard.
And the counter attack that has carved so many teams open under Guardiola’s reign was at its best again when Sterling found himself with only Kyle Naughton to beat and with an unmarked Agüero to his right hand side. With a scissors that cut open both Naughton’s pants and hopes of returning home to the respect of his family with one snip, Sterling skipped past the defender and slotted in his team’s third. No pissing around on this occasion, just brilliance.
Continuing what seems to be a season tradition of ensuring the game ends on a sour note, De Bruyne limped off the field injured with 10 minutes to go. Guardiola spent the summer making sure that his side would be able to cope with even the highest profile of injuries this term, but replacing the influence of De Bruyne, should the Belgian’s injury prove to be serious, may be the Spaniard’s toughest assignment of the campaign so far.