Pep showers praise on 'Incredible' City

Riyad Mahrez (right) celebrating with Bernardo Silva after scoring against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium. Although it was the only goal of the match, champions City were overwhelmingly dominant with 82 per cent of possession.
Riyad Mahrez (right) celebrating with Bernardo Silva after scoring against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium. Although it was the only goal of the match, champions City were overwhelmingly dominant with 82 per cent of possession.PHOTO: REUTERS

Coach hails players for total dominance over Cherries; de Bruyne's injury the only blip

LONDON • Over to you, Liverpool. In a title race where there is so little margin for error, a fifth straight Premier League victory for Manchester City, courtesy of Riyad Mahrez's second-half goal, means the champions put the onus back on the Reds ahead of the Merseyside derby.

It may have been a scrappy winner that settled this contest, but the gulf in class was huge.

To put Saturday's game into perspective, Bournemouth failed to register an attempt on goal of any description and never even managed to win a corner.

Eddie Howe's team had only 18 per cent of the possession and Guardiola's side were in so much control that it is seemed as though they had an extra man on the pitch for much of the match.

Hailing his "incredible" players, the Spaniard said: "One of the best performances we've ever played.

"We didn't concede one shot on target. Every time we lost the ball, we had three or four guys going to recover it. Bournemouth are incredibly well-organised, with 11 players in the box, so there's really no spaces, but we found them.

"I don't know what's going to happen at the end of the season, but these players deserve all my admiration and respect. Today was a special moment for all of us."

The only sour note for City was the sight of Kevin de Bruyne pulling up with a hamstring injury towards the end of the first half.

Telling BBC Sport the Belgian would be "out for a while", Guardiola felt that the injuries - Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte are already out for the next few weeks - could be down to the intensity he required his players to play with, but confirmed the withdrawal of John Stones was merely a precaution.

He said: "We demand a lot of the players without giving them the time to rest physiologically, that is why it is incredible. It's normal, we've played 25 games in 93 days."

The 48-year-old, however, insisted that the absences would give his squad players like Mahrez, who scored his first league goal in almost three months, the opportunity to stake their claim for a starting place.

Guardiola added: "His time is going to come because there are a lot of games. I don't have any doubts about his quality. He has to understand where he is, he is at a team who got 100 points and in every single game, fight, and run and play.

"The people in front (of him) are Leroy (Sane), who last season was one of the most important players we had, Bernardo (Silva), who is the best player in the league, and Raheem (Sterling)."

At Old Trafford, Manchester United caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl both hailed the qualities of often-criticised Romelu Lukaku, whose brace enabled the home side to emerge with a 3-2 win.

Calling the Belgium striker, who ended his nine-match barren run in the previous league game against Crystal Palace, a "quality goalscorer", the Norwegian said: "We need to have him more in front of goal, but he has done fantastic in his work rate, attitude, he loves scoring goals, he smiles every day."

His opposite number agreed, bemoaning that the Saints were only "defeated by a fantastic Romelu Lukaku".

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2019, with the headline 'Pep showers praise on 'incredible' City'. Print Edition | Subscribe