City earn routine victory

Sunderland 0 Manchester City 2: Sunderland were game, but the harsh truth is that they were woefully lacking in just about every department. Try as they might, the most stern test faced by Manchester City arrived in the aftermath of the final whistle.

City earn routine victory

Pep Guardiola’s men had hardly been required to break sweat during a routine victory, a fourth in succession in the league being their best since opening the season with six.

Barely had they been asked a question by the hosts in the entire 90 minutes, but that all changed when the Spaniard strode purposefully onto the pitch to engage in some robust post-game debriefs with an assortment of his superstars.

David Silva, Willy Caballero, and John Stones were all subject to animated Pep talks — nothing too confrontational as the head coach insisted he had merely been inviting the peerless Silva round to his house for dinner — but clearly the post-match briefings left those clad in blue more to think about than they had been required of all afternoon.

An eighth win in ten games against Stoke at the Etihad on Wednesday will see Guardiola’s side move up to second. Yesterday, they looked in a different league to Sunderland, and in all probability come the end of May, they will be.

“Winning these kinds of games is the most difficult kind,” said the former Bayern Munich chief, although it was difficult to concur as goals in either half from Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane left the hosts rooted to the bottom of the table, six points adrift of safety.

“People can believe these games are easy to play, but we didn’t fall into that trap.”

Jermain Defoe struck the post with a long-range shot on the turn, with Fabio Borini unable to direct the rebound on target, in an early warning which City heeded to take the lead three minutes before the break. Yaya Toure broke from his own half to feed Silva, whose ball found Raheem Sterling wide on the right.

The winger’s deflected low cross should have been cleared, but Aguero beat his marker Lamine Kone to the ball to send a deft first-time touch into the net at Jordan Pickford’s near post for his 23rd goal of the season and fifth in three matches.

Guardiola said: “We were lucky to go in ahead, but after we scored the second goal we controlled the game.”

That arrived just before the hour. Sterling’s pass released Silva from halfway to exploit the time and space afforded him by the Sunderland defence and play a perfectly weighted through ball for Sane to outpace the labouring Billy Jones before beating Pickford with a low angled drive from 12 yards which found the net via the keeper’s left-hand post.

It was the German midfielder’s sixth goal of the season, and third in as many games. Eyebrows were raised at the €40m City paid Schalke for the 21-year-old in August, but Guardiola said: “When a player with that kind of price-tag doesn’t go well he’s expensive, but now he’s cheap.”

Sunderland sporadically threatened a late comeback in their efforts to mount a fifth consecutive successful fight against relegation, one which looks increasingly unlikely with each passing setback.

Defoe had a late effort ruled out for offside, and Caballero saved from Seb Larsson and Kone in the space of 60 seconds to help seal a third league clean sheet in four appearances since the Spaniard replaced Claudio Bravo in goal.

Sunderland have plenty of time to reflect on their perilous predicament, given that they face just one more league game before the start of April. “That looks like being a really big month for us,” said Moyes, who saw Jones waste two presentable headed chances at the end of the first-half.

“We’ve got a good chance of staying up. No one in the dressing room is saying we’re down.”

A different sentiment was being expressed in various other parts of the Stadium of Light, however.

City, who are still in the Champions League and FA Cup, retain more lofty ambitions. Guardiola refused to be drawn on whether they can significantly eat into the eight-point deficit they must make up on leaders Chelsea, an advantage Antonio Conte’s side can further stretch when they travel to West Ham tonight.

Guardiola said: “What is the best result for this season? You have to judge us on our performances. We have big objectives but we just try to concentrate on winning the next match.”

SUNDERLAND (4-2-3-1):

Pickford 8; Jones 5, Kone 5, O’Shea 5, Ovideo 6; Larsson 6, Gibson 6 (Rodwell 69, 5) ; Januzaj 5 (Khazri 82, 5), Ndong 5, Borini 5; Defoe 5.

Substitutes:

Mannone, Manquillo, Djilobodji, Honeyman, Love.

MAN CITY (4-1-4-1):

Caballero 8; Sagna 7, Stones 8, Kolarov 7, Clichy 7; Toure 8(De Bruyne 78, 6); Sterling 7 (Nolito 82, 6), Ferdandinho 6, Silva 7, Sane 9 (Delph 89, 5); Aguero 8.

Substitutes:

Bravo, Fernando, Otamendi, Iheanacho.

Referee:

Martin Atkinson (W Yorks) 7

Did you know?

David Silva has provided more Premier League assists (62) than any other player in the competition since his debut (August 2010).

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