Riyad Mahrez scored decisively to sink Bournemouth but Manchester City’s second consecutive 1-0 win in the Premier League came at a cost.
City are back at the top of the table, with Liverpool needing to address a two-point deficit in Sunday’s Merseyside derby at Everton after Mahrez snuck in his 11th goal of the season 10 minutes into the second half at the Vitality Stadium..
Yet the Algeria winger was only on the field because Kevin De Bruyne suffered the latest setback of an injury-ruined season.
Eddie Howe’s hosts remain 12th after a far more robust showing than in their 5-1 loss at Arsenal in midweek, but they offered little attacking threat from their disciplined 5-4-1 setup.
David Silva shot wastefully wide from De Bruyne’s 19th-minute cross, although the Belgium midfielder’s half would end in dejection.
An audacious overhead kick from centre-back Nicolas Otamendi was the next closest City came to finding an opener before the interval – demonstrating how effectively Bournemouth restricted opponents who enjoyed 83 per cent possession in the opening 45 minutes.
The injury woes continued early in the second period for Guardiola, with John Stones lasting 47 minutes on his return before making way for Vincent Kompany and icing his thigh on the bench.
Mahrez eased frustrations of another kind in the away dugout when he drilled a shot under Artur Boruc after Silva worked possession into his path.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) March 2, 2019
Raheem Sterling came close to scoring in a seventh consecutive match against Bournemouth but drove into the side netting in the 64th minute.
The England winger then turned provider as Boruc held a stabbed shot from Sergio Aguero, who later rattled the bar with a speculative strike.
Bournemouth’s goalkeeper hared out to deny Sterling inside the final quarter of an hour before preventing the match-winner Mahrez from heading his second.
What does it mean? Hard yards ahead in City’s title defence
By the midway point at the Vitality Stadium, Manchester City had gone five completed halves of football, plus a period of extra-time, without scoring from open play. If the Premier League title is to be retained, the evidence of the past weeks shows Guardiola’s normally free-flowing attacking machine will have to laboriously plug away at disciplined and determined defences not giving them an inch. Along with a mounting injury list, competing for honours on four fronts appears to have robbed some of City’s star attackers of their sharpness.
Riyademption! Mahrez quells doubters with vital intervention
There were audible groans from the Etihad Stadium crowd as Mahrez strayed regularly offside and caused attacks to fall down in the attritional 1-0 win over West Ham. Competing with Sterling and Leroy Sane for a starting berth is no easy task, even when you are a £60million record signing, while the departure of youngsters Brahim Diaz and Rabbi Matondo – both fearing there was no path to the first team – left the former Leicester City star cast unfairly as a hindrance in some quarters. Smuggling a goal past Boruc should do him no end of favours.
De Bruyne woes continue
City’s star performer in a dominant campaign last season, De Bruyne was hindered by two medial knee ligament injuries before the turn of the year this time around. He has struggled for rhythm on his return and can ill-afford another prolonged spell on the sidelines. De Bruyne and Stones join Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy and Fernandinho in the City treatment room.
Key Opta Facts
– Manchester City’s 100 per cent winning record in eight games against Bournemouth is the best in English top-flight history.
– Bournemouth have never beaten City in 14 previous league meetings (W0 D2 L12).
– City have kept a clean sheet in six of their last eight Premier League games, including in each of the last four, conceding just three goals in total.
– Bournemouth failed to record a shot against City, the first time they have failed to register an attempt in a Premier League game.
– Bournemouth recorded their lowest possession figure in a Premier League game against Manchester City today (17.9 per cent), with club averaging 48.9 in the competition.
Guardiola can assess De Bruyne, Stones and his other injury absentees over the course of a free midweek before hosting Watford, with Howe doing likewise ahead of a trip to relegation-haunted Huddersfield Town.
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