Review and Player Ratings from De Bruyne inspired return to the top – Manchester City 3-0 Brighton
Manchester City return to the summit of the Premier League table with a resounding win against Brighton at the Etihad. Goals from Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva won Pep Guardiola’s men all three points and earned the Catalan his 250th win as Manchester City manager.
Kevin De Bruyne made his return to the City starting eleven this evening, after an injury sustained against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. The City maestro partnered Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan in midfield. Joao Cancelo and Nathan Ake occupied the full-back roles with John Stones and Aymeric Laporte in the middle of the defence, ahead of Ederson in goal. Bernardo Silva took the false nine position, flanked either side by Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez.
Kyle Walker is yet to return from injury also received against Atletico Madrid. Fingers crossed he returns soon. Meanwhile, Cole Palmer returned to the matchday squad after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with an injury/issue.
Brighton started the game operating with a high press, looking to win the ball far into City territory, and while City edged the opening proceedings, it was a tough contest from the start.
City fans around the ground were audibly showing their anxiety regarding the title race, and Mahrez had the perfect early opportunity to settle those nerves after just seventeen minutes. A gift from Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez allowed the Algerian winger to shoot, or to find De Bruyne, but he did neither and wasted a golden chance to give his side the lead. A huge let-off for Brighton.
City settled into the game as the first half progressed and Sanchez was forced to clear a dangerous De Bruyne cross after twenty minutes, with City looking increasingly threatening.
The early press fell away and Brighton settled into the usual system for teams visiting the Etihad, a defensive wall with all of their players in it. Cancelo tried his luck from thirty yards, but ultimately it showed frustration from the City man.
De Bruyne was inches away from opening the scoring after 26 minutes. Some good driving play and a one-two with Foden opened up Brighton, but his long-range strike fired just wide.
Gundogan was the next player to blow an easy chance for the home side after half an hour. The German midfielder had half a net to aim for but managed to strike the ball into the defender instead. This City side are capable of massive failures in front of goal, and it isn’t limited to a game here or there.
At the halftime break, it was goalless with Graham Potter’s men the happier of the two sides. City were frustrated throughout the first half and wasted key opportunities to take the lead. For a side recently toppled from the summit of the Premier League table, it was hardly a showing of a team fighting for their crown back – but that would change.
Ake, who appeared to be moving gingerly towards the end of the first half, was replaced by Ruben Dias during the break. Stones moved over to right-back and Cancelo took the Dutchman’s place at left-back.
The second half was much improved for the home side and City finally did take the lead after 53 minutes through Mahrez. I almost described the driving progressive run from De Bruyne in the build-up to that goal as Yaya Toure-esque, but that’s unfair to the Belgian. He’s simply in a class of his own, and Mahrez was the latest to benefit from his brilliance. City were ahead.
The goal did wonders for City confidence throughout the team and left Brighton looking nervous and on the back foot. City just needed to press the advantage here and try to end the contest.
On 66 minutes they did just that. Foden grabbed City’s second goal of the evening and settled the collective nerves of millions of Blues around the world. A strike from 20+ yards deflected through a sea of bodies and found the back of the net. Two deflected goals for City, but who cares? They all count.
Brighton were shell shocked after the second goal and seemed unsure what they needed to do, with City pushing on for the killing blow as they always will. Foden almost bagged again on 73 minutes, pulling a great save out of Sanchez. He was ultimately offside, but the pressure was there from the home side.
City lost another defender to what looked like an injury on 77 minutes. Stones was limping a little and Oleksandr Zinchenko replaced him. Both Ake and Stones going off hurt in one game will have been painful viewing for Guardiola, but the boss will be hoping that neither issue is serious upon further assessment in the coming days.
The killer goal eventually did arrive in the 82nd minute from Bernardo Silva. Great work yet again from De Bruyne and the Portuguese midfielder smashed in a first time shot. I can’t decide which was more beautiful: the one-touch pass or the one-touch finish.
Guardiola made his third change of the night after this goal, bringing off De Bruyne for Gabriel Jesus. Protect this man at all costs, Pep.
The final whistle went, City returned to the top of the league, and also officially qualified for the 2022/23 Champions League. 250 wins under Guardiola, with a 72.7% win rate.
Up next for City is Watford at home on April 23rd. Kick-off is 15:00 BST.
This side has none. Top scorer Mahrez has racked up a few this season (23) – but overall, not one of our players are what you would consider lethal in front of goal. How many times each game do we fans groan in frustration after missing easy chances? I don’t even lean forward when some players are in on goal because I assume they will miss. Erling Haaland is rumoured to be offered £500k a week if he joins City. Make it a full million for all I care and bring him to the Etihad because this side is crying out for a goal scorer. We simply don’t have one, which is crazy considering the number of goals we do score.
BACK TO BACK TO BACK
Is there really a player in this league more deserving of the Player of the Year award than De Bruyne again? He’s the best player this team has, this league has, and in midfield, this world has. He deserves to walk away with the award for the third year running, especially if we win the title yet again. There’s just nobody else on his level. He proved that again tonight, just like he does most games he plays.
MAN OF THE MATCH
It could have been Mahrez, easily. He racked up a goal and an assist tonight. De Bruyne, though, he’s just better than the rest. It was his powerful running that opened up the Brighton defence for Mahrez’s first goal, and it was his deft touch pass into Bernardo Silva that sealed the victory with the third goal. That and everything in between that he does, he’s just on another level. My MOTM, my POTY.
EDERSON – 7
CANCELO – 7
STONES – 7
LAPORTE – 7
AKE – 7
RODRI – 7
GUNDOGAN – 5.5
DE BRUYNE – 8.5
BERNARDO – 7
FODEN – 7
MAHREZ – 8
Subs: Dias – 7, Zinchenko – 6, Jesus - 6
Written by: @CityReportBen
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