Pep Guardiola rather optimistically suggested in the build-up to Manchester City’s game at Bournemouth that things would “click” in front of goal at some point this season and, after Raheem Sterling’s scrappiest of last-minute winners, perhaps he is right.
So often during Guardiola’s time in England he has felt his team have hamstrung themselves by failing to put away their numerous chances. Even when the opposition made merry and took advantage of a shoddy-looking City defence, the Catalan would lay the blame at the door of his forwards.
He admitted on Friday that City’s first two Premier League matches are “a little bit like last season” in that respect, and he in fact revealed he was concerned about how things were going.
A week previously he had said he would tell his players, particularly Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne, to “relax and score a goal”. That advice had clearly not worked against Everton on Monday evening and, ahead of the trip to the south coast, he was hardly convincing when he said things would come together eventually.
“We are going to try to find the chance to be confident, and one day it is going to click, and we are going to score goals.”
For 94 minutes on Saturday lunchtime it seemed he would have plenty more to worry about. City, after a wobbly opening first 15 minutes in which the hosts pressed and Charlie Daniels rifled in a superb opening goal, dominated the match and were good value for their win. But it had increasingly looked like it would be another frustrating afternoon.
After Gabriel Jesus had shown all the street smarts which have so excited Blues fans by darting in behind the Cherries defence and finishing David Silva’s fine pass, it seemed at least another goal in the coming 69 minutes was inevitable.
Jesus flashed a shot into the side netting shortly after his goal, before Fernandinho got into the box only to hit straight at Asmir Begovic.
In the second half, substitute Sergio Aguero seized upon a loose ball in the box, Nicolas Otamendi watched a corner all the way from De Bruyne’s boot and onto his forehead, but made minimal contact and could only hit the inside of the post, and David Silva, under challenge, fired over the bar.
Not to mention the vast number of dangerous crosses put into the box by Danilo and Benjamin Mendy that somehow contrived to avoid another City player.
Heading into this game, City had missed five clear-cut chances in two Premier League games. Along with Arsenal it was the joint most in the league. Considering the Blues had only actually created four clear-cut chances (a poor back-pass at Brighton put Aguero in on goal), they had missed more than they had created.
Josh King rattled the post on one rare second-half Bournemouth attack, and he raced through on the break at the end, only to be denied by Ederson. In that sense, Guardiola would have been thankful that “a little bit like last season” did not include conceding soft goals on the counter-attack.
Still, though, he would have been cursing his luck that his array of talented forwards could not bury the string of presentable opportunities that came their way. Throw in some questionable refereeing decisions, particularly the one not to send off Nathan Ake, and it certainly seemed like it was the same old story.
— Benjamin Mendy (@benmendy23) August 26, 2017
That was, of course, until Sterling bobbled an effort off at least one Bournemouth defender and into the back of the net. Somehow. It was the most inelegant of winning goals but, at the same time, surely one of the most satisfying for City.
Of course, it sparked wild celebrations in the away end and the City dug-out alike. Guardiola himself went bananas. Sterling, delirious, ran to the travelling support, an action which resulted in his second yellow card of the afternoon.
He will now miss City’s next game, against his former club, Liverpool, after the international break. While his mood will have been immediately soured, perhaps his team-mates, not to mention his manager, will hope that, just maybe, things have finally clicked.
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