Manchester City thrashed West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad Stadium to move five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The visitors defended well and were fortunate not to lose by more, but eventually they were broken down by goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero, after a Fernandinho opener. Here’s what we learned from the latest installment in Pep Guardiola’s systematic destruction of England’s top flight.
De Bruyne Sparkles Again
Three players in the Premier League stand head and shoulders above the rest and they’re all called Kevin De Bruyne. There’s Kevin the Goalscorer, Kevin the Creator and Kevin the Destroyer. All three were in fine fettle tonight as De Bruyne first set up the opening goal with a brilliant pass to Fernandinho, then calmly dispatched the second to double Manchester City’s lead.
To top it all off, he seemed utterly unfazed by what can only be described as an assassination attempt from James McClean – more on that later. Salah and Kane can keep on scoring- they can bag 40 each if they like- but if the PFA Player of the Year award was handed out now there would only be one winner.
Unhappy Return for Sturridge
After his years with Chelsea and Liverpool, it’s easy to forget that Daniel Sturridge made his name playing for Manchester City. Now, a decade later, he returned to the Etihad with new club West Bromwich Albion, who he signed for on a six-month loan deal this week.
It’s safe to say this wasn’t the debut Sturridge would’ve wanted, with his team losing heavily before he’d had a chance to show what he could do, and despite hitting the side-netting late on he failed to impact the game.
No shame in that against a team as good as Manchester City, however, and West Bromwich Albion fans should be confident of seeing more from their new man in the coming weeks.
Laporte in at the Deep End
Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City’s record signing, probably didn’t expect to be starting on his debut the day after joining the club- and neither did almost anyone else. But John Stones’ illness meant that the £57m centre-back, signed from Athletic Bilbao, got a chance to shine in front of his new fans, and shine he did.
The Frenchman was solid all night, helping keep an important clean sheet and playing some excellent passes. He has a remarkable ability (that reminds me of Aleksandar Kolarov) to hit a perfect diagonal ball to the right wing that, coupled with Sterling’s pace, has already proven very useful for Guardiola’s team. This great start will settle plenty of nerves for the future.
Title Race Over?
Coupled with Manchester United’s 2-0 loss at Wembley and Chelsea’s home humiliation at the hands of Howe’s Bournemouth, this City win sees them fifteen points clear at the top of the Premier League. And while City have been runaway leaders for several months now, this latest victory means that they’ll need just eight wins from their remaining thirteen games to guarantee the trophy in May, even if second-place United win every game until the end of the season.
It’s been one of the most comfortable English League victories of all time, and barring a major collapse on City’s part, could even be wrapped up by the time they take on Mourinho’s side in April – now wouldn’t that be something?
City Fortunate to Escape Injury
Pep Guardiola has been very vocal this season about referees not offering enough protection to players, and there were two examples of that in this match.
First James McClean escaped with a yellow card after a potential leg-breaker on De Bruyne (who scored seconds later) and then Matt Phillips lunged in with a high, late challenge on young substitute Brahim Díaz.
On both occasions the referee handed out a less severe punishment than necessary and it wasn’t the first time either. This season alone, players such as Harry Kane, Dwight Gayle, Dele Alli, Jason Puncheon and Steve Cook have gotten away with red-card fouls on City players. It’s something that Pep certainly has a right to be concerned about.