Mahrez goal puts Man City back on top



Pep Guardiola says Manchester City’s win at Bournemouth was “one of the best performances we’ve ever played” as the champions overcame injuries to Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones to go two points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The champions lost De Bruyne and Stones either side of the break before Riyad Mahrez – on for Belgian De Bruyne – scored the only goal of the game early in the second half.

“[It was] an incredible performance – one of the best performances we’ve ever played,” said Guardiola.

“We didn’t concede one shot on target, we were committed at set-pieces defensively, every time we lost the ball we had three or four guys going to recover the ball.

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“It was incredible how well they played today – the way they helped each other was fantastic.”

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It was a second 1-0 win in the space of four days for City, who once again dominated possession but were forced to be patient against dogged and defensive opponents.

They only created one clear-cut opportunity in the first half, when David Silva met De Bruyne’s low cross but could only side-foot wide.

Seconds before the break they suffered their first injury blow when De Bruyne went down unchallenged and immediately signalled to the bench that he wanted to come off.

It was the same scenario at the start of the second period, with John Stones walking off the field to be replaced by Vincent Kompany.

Despite those setbacks, City continued to push forward and deservedly took the lead after 55 minutes. Charlie Daniels failed to properly clear Bernardo Silva’s pass, the ball falling to Silva who teed up Mahrez to fire home at Artur Boruc’s near post.

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The Bournemouth goalkeeper could possibly have done better, but made up for it with a series of impressive stops to keep the score at 1-0.

The 39-year-old showed great athleticism to tip Sergio Aguero’s lofted long-range effort on to the bar before pushing Mahrez’s header away from point-blank range.

Bournemouth offered little as an attacking force in reply, failing to have a shot at goal or force a single corner.

City’s win puts the pressure back on title rivals Liverpool, who can return to the summit with victory over Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on Sunday.

The sight of a pumped-up Guardiola passionately hugging all his players on the pitch at the final whistle highlighted the importance of this win in an increasingly fascinating title race.

The result was just reward for City’s patience and determination, as they stuck to their possession-based approach even though they failed to break through a packed defence early on.

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The champions had 82% possession, forced 14 corners and had 23 shots at goal in a win that was a lot more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.

The victory came at cost however, with Guardiola confirming De Bruyne came off with a hamstring injury while Stones was substituted as a precaution.

With Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte already sidelined, even a squad as talented as City’s is being stretched.

Guardiola will have been delighted therefore with the impact of Mahrez, who was ineffective against West Ham in midweek but was much improved here.

The City boss was also boosted by the return of Gabriel Jesus, who came on as a late substitute after three weeks out with a hamstring injury.

Both are likely to play a key role in the coming weeks, with this game the first of five matches across three competitions in a hectic March for City as they seek an unprecedented quadruple.



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