Over to you, Liverpool

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Over to you, Liverpool

Bournemouth 0 Manchester City 1


Manchester City midfielder Riyad Mahrez is mobbed by team-mates after scoring the winning goal in the victory over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City midfielder Riyad Mahrez is mobbed by team-mates after scoring the winning goal in the victory over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Now let’s see what Liverpool are made of. A fifth straight league victory for Manchester City, courtesy of Riyad Mahrez’s second-half goal, means that Pep Guardiola’s side can enjoy the view from the top of the Premier League table and crank up the pressure on their title rivals, who face Everton today.

At the end of the game, Guardiola went to the City supporters to celebrate with gusto. Punching the air, he knew precisely what this meant. Winning away from home against obdurate opposition in March: it may not linger long in the memory, but as the season reaches its business end, this win could prove highly significant.



Manchester City's Kyle Walker helps Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne to his feet. Photo: Getty ImagesManchester City's Kyle Walker helps Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne to his feet. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City’s Kyle Walker helps Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne to his feet. Photo: Getty Images

“Today is a special moment for all of us,” the manager said. “We made an incredible performance, we didn’t concede one shot on target. They had 11 players in the box, which meant there was no spaces, but somehow we found them.”

He had a point. There was nothing scruffy, nothing lucky about this win. It was a victory forged from patience, application and persistence. Plus total control. City had turned up without Fernandinho. Which is like taking the metronome away from orchestral rehearsal. But his absence did not affect their passing. For most of the first half it was, slick, smooth, sophisticated. And as always their dominance of the ball was underpinned by a refusal to allow their opponents to linger long in possession.

Despite the control, however, end product was at a premium. It did not help that Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe opted for a blanket defence. He selected three centre-backs, one of whom, Jack Simpson, was playing only his second Premier League game.

With Joshua King foraging alone up front, David Brooks darting through midfield and Nathan Ake superb at tidying up alongside his centre-back partners, it was a fine start by Bournemouth, limited as it was in its ambition.



Bournemouth's Adam Smith takes the ball beyond Raheem Sterling. Photo: Getty ImagesBournemouth's Adam Smith takes the ball beyond Raheem Sterling. Photo: Getty Images

Bournemouth’s Adam Smith takes the ball beyond Raheem Sterling. Photo: Getty Images

The problem Howe had was that City did not accede to his game-plan. He was hoping to frustrate his visitors, looking to snap them on the break. But City remained patient, taking their lead from Guardiola, who was unusually relaxed on the touchline.

Even though Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones hobbled off either side of the break, such is the depth of their resources nothing seemed to make them falter. More importantly, as the game headed towards stalemate, there was no hint of panic. They kept probing, searching for an opening. Eventually, you felt, there had to be return on all this investment.

It finally came when Oleksandr Zivchenko, having a fine game at left- back, and David Silva worked the ball across the front of the massed ranks of Bournemouth defenders. Silva chested it forward to substitute Riyad Mahrez, whose scuffed right-foot shot deceived Artur Boruc and crept into the net.

If this was meant to signal the start of a landslide, the Bournemouth floodgates remained firmly closed. Bernardo Silva played a pass into Raheem Sterling that was a work of art, but the forward put his shot into the side netting. Sterling then galloped into the area to provide Sergio Aguero with a chance. His effort was well saved by Boruc. And when Vincent Kompany headed the ball forward into Sterling’s path, goal number two seemed inevitable. But Boruc scooped the ball off his toes. It fell to Mahrez, who ballooned a shot comically wide.



Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi is challenged by Bournemouth's Joshua King. Photo: Getty ImagesManchester City's Nicolas Otamendi is challenged by Bournemouth's Joshua King. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi is challenged by Bournemouth’s Joshua King. Photo: Getty Images

Even with Howe enthusiastically clapping his team on, Bournemouth did not produce anything resembling a shot all game.

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“Their technical level was so high,” the home manager said. “We were waiting for mistakes and they didn’t make them. It made it very difficult for us.”

As endorsements go, at this point of the season it is one that Guardiola will have enjoyed more than most.



Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty ImagesManchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images

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