The Premier League season is only four games old but it has already been reduced to one question: how do you stop Manchester City winning it again? Four games in and everyone is already wondering how you stop the repeat. How do you stop the Three-Peat? How do you dent their domination of English football?
It already seems apparent that Liverpool are the only ones properly up for the fight. City are already five points clear of Manchester United. Not that that is much of a measure any more. Chelsea dropped more points against Sheffield United. Either Arsenal or Spurs, or both, will drop more points today. Leicester look good. Apart from that, it’s slim pickings.
And City are flying. Pep Guardiola, who wore a black armband in memory of Luis Enrique’s young daughter, who died of cancer last week, is a relentless task-master and there is no sense of his side’s intensity dropping. The opposite, if anything. They have scored in 26 consecutive league games now. They seem to be getting stronger and stronger.
Kevin de Bruyne had calmly converted from close range following David Silva’s pass to hand City an early lead at the Etihad
The Belgian midfielder was on hand to accurately fire beyond Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan from inside the penalty area
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola watched on as the reigning champions started the home clash in impressive fashion
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND LEAGUE TABLE
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson 6; Walker 6.5, Otamendi 6, Laporte 6.5 (Fernandinho 37 7), Zinchenko 7; De Bruyne 8 (Gundogan 70 7), Rodrigo 7, David Silva 8.5 (Bernardo Silva 79 7); Mahrez 7, Aguero 8, Sterling 7.
Substitutes not used: Bravo, Angelino, Joao Cancelo, Foden.
Brighton & Hove Albion (3-5-2): Ryan 6; Webster 6, Dunk 6, Burn 5.5; Montoya 6, Propper 4, Stephens 5, Bernardo 5.5 (Murray 67 5); Maupay 6 (Connolly 67 5), March 5, Trossard 4 (Gross 74 5).
Substitutes not used: Button, Duffy, Gross, Jahanbakhsh, Mooy.
Man of the match: David Silva
Referee: Jonathan Moss 7
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If there is any hope for the rest, it may have come in the sad sight of their central defender Aymeric Laporte being carried off on a stretcher during the first half with what looked like a knee injury. He was being assessed in hospital last night. Laporte is a key player and if he is forced into an extended absence, it will be a blow. But City have a strong squad. John Stones will be ready to step in for the next game, against Norwich, next month.
City have picked up this season where they left off last season. The debate was in full flow before their demolition of Brighton about how teams might be rewarded for taking them on. Don’t be intimidated by them, the argument went. Don’t just try to limit the damage. Stand in the middle of the ring and trade with them and you might be surprised what you get.
Brighton, it was said, would try to beat the City press by playing the ball out from the back. They would beat Guardiola’s side at their own game. They would not sit back and try to soak up pressure as Chris Hughton’s side might have done when he was the boss on the south coast. They would come and have a go. They would take the game to City.
Well, good luck with that. No one needed the benefit of hindsight to think it a little over-ambitious. It was a nice idea but it had about as much chance of working as trying to beat Lionel Messi in a dribbling contest. It did not take long for it to come unstuck, either. Just over a minute, in fact. Sixty-nine seconds, to be precise.
But the hosts were dealt an injury blow in the first half after centre half Aymeric Laporte was stretchered off the field
Laporte had mistimed a tackle as he tried to halt a swashbuckling run from Webster and injured a knee in the process
Sergio Aguero then doubled City’s lead with a thunderous finish which hurtled into the roof of the net on 42 minutes
The Argentine striker netted his fifth top flight goal of the new campaign after de Bruyne had picked him out in the box
City’s third came when Aguero had arrowed a superb curling effort beyond the beaten Ryan and into the top corner
Brighton tried. They played the ball across their back four, until Ryan played it long to Burn on the left touchline. He controlled it well enough but City were swarming all over their opponents and when Burn played it inside, David Silva cut it out and City began to work the ball towards the Brighton goal.
Zinchenko was given space on the left. So much space that he had time to check his run and stop and then assess his options. Silva darted forward and Zinchenko’s pass evaded Propper, who was left on the floor. Silva ran to the byline and cut the ball back for De Bruyne, who slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Sure, Brighton were brave. Guardiola praised them afterwards for their ‘courage and personality’. And, yes, it contributed to a pleasing spectacle because Graham Potter’s side tried to play rather than park the bus. Guardiola said he learned a lot from Potter’s tactics. They even caused City some uncomfortable moments. But they lost 4-0.
City should have extended their lead just inside half an hour when Sterling made space on the byline on the left of the Brighton area. Sterling played the ball into the path of David Silva’s run and it looked like the most simple of tasks for Silva to prod it past Ryan.
The striker’s second of the game came after the ever impressive David Silva had teed up his teammate from distance
Bernardo Silva struck City’s fourth just minutes after coming on as a substitute with an unerring strike beyond Ryan
Silva is so good that he does not really have faults but it would be fair to say he is not particularly fond of using his right foot. If he had done it this time, City would have been 2-0 up. Instead, he tried to toe-poke the ball into the net with his left foot and, to general disbelief, it squirted wide.
City suffered a blow ten minutes before half time when Laporte, who was described by Guardiola on Friday as the best left-sided centre half in Europe, mistimed a tackle as he tried to halt a swashbuckling run from Webster and injured a knee in the process. It was obvious immediately he was in considerable pain and he was carried from the pitch on a stretcher.
City recovered from that setback quickly. Fernandinho was introduced in place of Laporte and he had barely had time to take up his position when City went further ahead. A patient build-up quickened when De Bruyne received the ball on the right, his pass went to Mahrez, who let the ball run for Aguero. Aguero’s first touch, jinking to his right, sat Dunk down on his backside before the Argentina forward lashed the ball past Ryan.
The Portuguese star had converted beyond the Brighton goalkeeper with only his second touch after his introduction
Another impressive performance from the home side had been rounded off when Silva drilled into the bottom right corner
Brighton were not totally impotent. Nor did they abandon their style of play. And with better finishing, they could have put City under more pressure. Trossard was particularly profligate: one chance, just before half time was blocked by Ederson’s knee. Another, just after half time, with the goal gaping, was hit into the ground and nodded away by Fernandinho.
City were not so charitable. Their finishing was merciless. Ten minutes after the interval, Zinchenko was again given space to advance on the left. He zipped a low ball into David Silva, who cushioned a lovely ball inside to Aguero on his instep. Aguero cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable curling drive past Ryan into the top corner. It was his sixth goal in four games this season. ‘He will die scoring goals,’ Guardiola said after the match.
The game was over as a contest now but City were still intent on gilding it. One Silva replaced another ten minutes before the end and the transition was seamless. Bernardo Silva’s first touch was to control a pass from Aguero. His second was to drill the ball past Ryan to make it 4-0.