The goal that ultimately put this tame affair to bed may have gone in off Tyrone Mings but the sight of Sergio Agüero once again contributing to balls being put in the back of the net is one that will please Manchester City supporters. His touch was rusty and at times it appeared as if he was running with 50lb dumbbells sewn into his arse cheeks, yet here was the most decorated striker in the club’s history demonstrating his predatory instincts inside the box, bursting in front of Mings to reach Raheem Sterling’s cross, doing what he does best. Agüero has proven in the past that he can be relied upon to provide the goods.
The Argentine had occupied a place on the bench for the third consecutive game before coming on as a 15th minute substitute to replace Gabriel Jesus. And in truth, and injury was the only plausible reason to split up the Sané-Jesus-Sterling trident that has been responsible for our improved form in the last four games. Pep Guardiola says we will know more about the Brazilian’s ankle injury tomorrow.
Agüero, though quite obviously lacking the tenacity Jesus has in abundance, is not the worst replacement in the world. There were much better performers than him in a hard-fought 2-0 win at the Vitality Stadium – David Silva was at his impish best and Fernandinho could have been mistaken for the legendary Roberto Carlos as he filled in superbly at left back – but at no point was there a feeling that City’s performance was about to suffer in the absence of Jesus. Agüero was not at his best yet still a constant menace and a player Bournemouth were keen to prevent supply to.
This was always going to be an open encounter with Eddie Howe’s free-scoring, free conceding side chasing their first victory of the new year. The Cherries had scored 9 and conceded 19 in all competitions going into Monday night’s fixture and appeared to be an outfit tailor-made for City’s fearsome attack to sink their teeth into, but equipped with the pace of Jordan Ibe and Joshua King in their own forward line the hosts caused City some early problems. Willy Caballero has perhaps been the only individual to take positives from Claudio Bravo’s hideous form and proved he is the right man to occupy a temporary place between the sticks with an excellent interception to deny Ibe a certain goal. Moments like this can change games and for too long now City have been unable to rely upon their goalkeeper to keep the scores level. Caballero deserves credit.
Now it was City’s turn to attack, the game swinging like a pendulum on caffeine. Guardiola’s preferred route of build up was from Stones into Silva and then wide onto Leroy Sané’s left flank where Adam Smith became the 21-year-old’s latest victim. Served a delicious Silva through ball, Sané cut back to Sterling who saw his effort deflect onto the post. At the second time of asking Raheem made no mistake as Sané’s fizzing cross found his right boot lurking at the far stick. That’s now five goals for him against the south coast outfit – the most he has against a single opponent.
Bournemouth responded immediately only for King’s strike to be ruled out. Credit must be given to Neil Swarbrick for spotting the Norwegian’s pull on the back of John Stones’ shirt.
Howe’s side continued to push for a goal in the second half but their efforts eventually dwindled as City seized possession.
For large portions of this match City’s passing was spell-binding. It often is when David Silva is in the team. There were doubts over whether the 31-year-old could operate as effectively from deeper positions. Such a positional shift was bound to limit the Spaniard’s ability to create and he’d need the grit of a Xabi Alonso to perform well in the role. But Silva has made the free 8 position his own, sitting in the control room of City’s midfield and gliding effortlessly across the pitch as he always has done. With City’s front three now beginning to form such a rigid unit, there is no longer such a demand on Silva to create from the 10 behind the striker. Guardiola’s formational shift could have been the downfall of the player many believe to be the club’s all time best, but instead it has emphasised his qualities. In this City team that enjoys so much possession the free 8 role is designed for players with phenomenal ball retention and vision and no player in this team is more skilled in those areas than Silva.
There was no player on this pitch more influential than Silva, though Sky Sports’ Man of the Match Sterling performed a piece of skill worthy of winning any match for our second. Raheem fooled his man with a quick flick of his boots and played a dangerous ball across the box that Agüero got his foot to. Unfortunately for Sergio it was Mings who got the decisive touch, but I’m sure he’ll be happy with the assist…
Should table toppers Chelsea somehow slip up in the next 13 games, you can bet that this resilient City side will be ready to pounce.