Manchester City appeared eager to put the Arsenal setback behind them, taking advantage of the international break to do so. However, Pep Guardiola said that his team needs to ‘break’ their losing streak in order to avoid losing more ground in the title race (a loss vs Brighton might have put them five points behind the leaders). And, while he was looking ahead, his team selection revealed his true feelings about the three losses in the previous four competitions – and who was to blame.
Ederson was rested after his trip to Brazil, and Stefan Ortega started his fourth league game in City’s last 15. Ederson had begun the previous 62 laps. Also replaced were Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake, Mateo Kovacic, and Rico Lewis. Arsenal’s starting lineup consisted of the goalkeeper, two centre backs, and two central midfielders.
Rodri returned from suspension, while John Stones made his first start of the season following an injury. Those two made their partners seem far better on their own, but it felt telling that Guardiola ripped apart the spine of his squad, which struggled to create against Arsenal. Two first-half goals against Brighton set City on track for a much-needed victory and re-entered the title chase.
Haaland is a skilled shooter.
Erling Haaland gathered up possession in the opposing half, advanced, and blasted a rocket into the bottom corner from just outside the area 13 months ago at Wolves. 55 games later, the striker did the same against Brighton, albeit this time with his left foot rather than his right, to put City ahead of Roberto De Zerbi’s side.
Those two scores are Haaland’s only two goals from beyond the area for City, out of a total of 61. He scored 46 goals from beyond 18 yards in his two seasons, demonstrating how dangerous he is in the box and how he doesn’t need to be a threat outside of it.
After two league blanks, this was a welcome’return to form’ for Haaland, whose link-up play and midfield effort is gradually improving with each game. It’s unlikely that City will have to wait another 55 games for his next long-range strike if he can start adding more efforts beyond the box to his repertoire.
Rodri’s reappearance helps to keep the ship afloat.
Rodri strolled right back into the City team, who had lost every game without him in the previous month. His return, like at RB Leipzig, stabilised the midfield and reinforced the reality that he is possibly City’s most essential player. Bernardo Silva was able to advance more from a centre position, and Phil Foden was able to slip inside from the wing.
John Stones’ comeback aided that method as well, pressing up alongside Rodri and sometimes further forward. His return should also give some stability to the defence and return City to the method that helped them win the treble at the end of last season.
Rodri has learned from his petulant red card against Nottingham Forest, according to Guardiola, and teammates have emphasised his value in his absence. The manager may have been irritated to see Rodri penalised for kicking the ball away after an offside, before risking the referee’s attention even more by arguing his case for a full minute. Another suspension for Rodri would not have gone down well ahead of the derby next week.
The master outwits the’successor’
Throughout the build-up to this game, Guardiola dodged numerous queries about De Zerbi’s chances of succeeding him as manager at the Etihad. Guardiola knows the Italian and considers him to be one of the most influential managers of the previous 20 years. Guardiola outplayed De Zerbi tactically in this game.
Brighton were geared up to attack and started on the front foot, playing a wide 4-3-3 style with midfielders James Milner and Solly March at full-back. Perhaps they expected Jack Grealish to start on the wing to get Milner more engaged in midfield, but Jeremy Doku was brilliant in his place and pinned Milner back. On the other side, March received a soft booking from Foden.
Doku set up City’s first goal by leaving Milner for dead and easing past Pascal Gross, while the two centre-backs were exposed when Brighton gave away possession poorly, allowing Haaland to smash home a second. Brighton’s desired end-to-end game never materialised, with Guardiola ruthlessly picking off their experimental shape in the first half. Even Brighton’s substitutions after the break, which threatened the outcome, were insufficient – the damage had been done in the opening 45 minutes.
A new record has been set.
The gap between City’s win against Forest and win over Brighton was 30 days, which is a greater gap than the Blues are used to under Guardiola. In fact, City would have lost three league games in a row for the first time under the manager, and only the second time in his managing career. He not only avoided that undesirable record, but he also set a new Premier League record in the process.
City won their 21st consecutive home game in all competitions with the win over Brighton, and they will win every single Etihad fixture in 2023. This exceeded Manchester United’s previous best of 20 in 2010/11. City holds a number of Premier League records, including the record for most consecutive home wins in all competitions by a Premier League club.
The Blues will now go to Young Boys in the Champions League, where they can take a huge step towards qualifying from their Champions League group, before facing Manchester United in an away derby next weekend. Their home form is unquestionable, and if they can improve their away form (three road defeats in a row already), they will be on track to win more trophies this season.