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NICK SZCZEPANIK'S PRESS VERDICT: MANCHESTER CITY

13 May 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Florin Andone in action against Manchester City.

The Amex media facilities were overflowing for the Manchester City match, with reporters from all over the world joining northern-based writers from British papers venturing much further south than usual.

Needless to say, all the reports concentrated on the newly-crowned Premier League champions and their considerable achievement in winning back-to-back titles. But most also had to recognise that Chris Hughton’s men had given Pep Guardiola’s team a scare.

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Jack Wilkinson of Sky Sports wrote: “Brighton relished the prospect of going against the script to potentially crash City's coronation. Alireza Jahanbakhsh flashed a fierce drive inches wide of goal on nine minutes, an effort which forced Guardiola to squat in his technical area as the pressure mounted.”

Henry Winter of The Times reported that “Guardiola’s side is full of strong characters, and they knew their mettle, physical and mental, was being examined here. Anthony Knockaert bowled over Laporte. Brighton were not standing on ceremony and Guardiola was almost prostrate on the floor in frustration. His centre backs were soon in a real scrap with Murray.

“City were briefly unnerved and soon behind. Bruno, whose every touch was cheered on his final game for Albion, launched a long throw which eventually led to a corner. At 3.27pm, Pascal Gross curled the ball towards the near-post where Murray, making light of the fearsome sight of Ederson flying out, powerfully headed in. Murray took the hit willingly, knowing he would get the goal. Guardiola sat on the bench, and rubbed his head in dismay.”

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At that point, the title seemed to be heading for Merseyside. Miguel Delaney of The Independent website wrote: “City had already started the game a little stutteringly, with too much hesitation in everything they did, when news from Anfield put doubt on the end product of everything they’ve done in this entire league season.

“Sadio Mane had put Liverpool ahead. City now had to score, but were in an oppressively tense passage of play when they seemed to be putting so many passes yards behind each other.

“Worse, high-performing champions like Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva were among those most responsible. Guardiola was agitatedly rubbing his face.

“The expression on that face only got more stern minutes later, as one of those errant passes led to a Brighton corner, and the breakthrough. Pascal Gross swung it in, and Glenn Murray headed it in. The striker’s touch was so light, but so potentially massive. It was the first time City had been behind in a game since their last defeat, to Newcastle United in January.”

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Dominic Fifield of The Guardian added: “Brighton, liberated from the choking fear of relegation, were progressive and unsettled the visitors’ back-line. Yet none of that really excused the freedom offered to Glenn Murray, such a seasoned scorer in Albion’s ranks, at Pascal Gross’ corner midway through the first half. The striker rose unchallenged ahead of a flailing Ederson and planted his header inside the goalkeeper’s post.”

City fan Jack Pitt-Brooke, also writing for The Independent, felt that Albion’s goal gave Guardiola’s men a kick in the rearguard that they had needed. “Manchester City have been walking along a tightrope all season, and should be used to high stakes. But it took the prospect of real disaster here, losing their footing, stumbling into a nightmare, that got them back on track to the title. Pain - or the prospect of it - has its uses.

“When Brighton took the lead here it did not feel like much of a surprise. Because City had started badly, the worst they have been in weeks. Worse than they were early on against Burnley or Manchester United, in fact. The players were in the wrong positions, they were giving simple passes away. It looked nothing like City at their best. And when Glenn Murray got above Oleksandr Zinchenko to head in the opener it was as much as City deserved.”

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Martin Samuel, the Daily Mail chief sports writer of the Daily Mail, admitted that City and their fans were still on edge until Riyad Mahrez’s shot gave them a 3-1 lead. “For 20 minutes, at the end of this match, the fans of Manchester City could relax, enjoy, party even. They were going to do it. They were going to win. They were going to get the 98 points needed to land the title, in this most astonishing of seasons.

“Guardiola may have spoken of sleeping like a baby, but at times on Sunday he appeared nervous as a kitten. The pre-match warm-up found him sitting alone on the bench, drumming his fingers on the seat. And that was before Liverpool scored.

“This they did 17 minutes in; meaning with the teams tied here, Liverpool had returned to the top of the table. There was only one thing that could make it worse, and then that happened, too: Brighton also scored.

“Interesting statistic about Manchester City this season. They have conceded more goals from set pieces, as a percentage, than any other team in the Premier League. So they remained consistent to the end. Ederson fumbled a Glenn Murray shot around for a corner, taken by Pascal Gross.

“It was a fine delivery, whipped in towards the near post, but neither Ederson nor his defenders dealt with it, and Murray was there to head in. One can only imagine how that news was greeted at Anfield. Even more deliriously perhaps, than on the south coast. Not least because the home support got precisely 83 seconds to glory in it, before City equalised.

“Laporte played the ball through to David Silva, who in turn found Sergio Aguero. He does have a habit of turning up trumps for City on days like this, and on Sunday was no exception. Mat Ryan has been good for Brighton this season, but Aguero's finish was slipped smartly through his legs. And then away they went, through the gears, over the hill and all the way to the title.

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Jason Burt took up the story in the Daily Telegraph. “They pressed, forcing a corner after Mahrez’s shot was turned away. Raheem Sterling took it with Laporte charging in from the edge of the penalty area to power a header past Ryan from six yards.

“Right on half-time and there was a warning to City. It appeared Anthony Knockaert would take a free-kick, conceded by Vincent Kompany, but instead Lewis Dunk almost caught out Ederson with a 25-yard shot that the goalkeeper just about pushed out as it dipped.”

Henry Winter continued: “City are worthy champions and their third goal demonstrated exactly why. It showed their individual quality, the impudence and technique of Riyad Mahrez in selling Lewis Dunk a dummy and then driving in an unstoppable shot with his supposedly weaker right foot, a shot that initially went straight and then moved away, giving the Brighton & Hove Albion keeper Mathew Ryan no chance.

“It was a goal of great beauty, the type that City have been conjuring up in their consistently thrilling play this season. They entertain, they keep attacking, even when the game is won. The lay-off from David Silva deserved two assists it was so good, perfectly weighted.”

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So Albion failed to end the season on the high they wanted, but Phil McNulty, the BBC’s chief football writer, paid tribute to the achievements of Hughton’s men. Led for the last time by El Capitan,

“This was a day of celebration for Manchester City - and also one of satisfaction for Brighton as they look forward to another season in the Premier League.

“It was a particularly special day for their iconic 38-year-old Spanish defender Bruno, who was making his final appearance. He was cheered throughout and made an emotional farewell when he was taken off.

“Bruno, clearly loved down here, was also acclaimed during a post-match speech.

“The Brighton fans left for summer in good heart after surviving late worries they may be hauled into the relegation fight and now shrewd manager Hughton will start plotting again to ensure they are in position for another season of consolidation when it all starts again in August.”

 


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