Sport

‘With title prize in sight, Man City rarely show any weakness’

If Arsenal hoped Brighton would seek out and exploit flaws in Manchester City’s make-up in the same manner Everton brutally exposed Liverpool’s, they were to be sorely disappointed.

And this is because, at this stage of the Premier League season when the big prize is in sight and the pressure is at its height, the reigning champions rarely show any signs of weakness.

Arsenal fulfilled their part of the bargain by thrashing Chelsea 5-0 at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday before Liverpool subsided in the Goodison Park hothouse 24 hours later.

The Gunners remain top of the table in a position they would have signed up for instantly at the start of the season, but the manner of City’s demolition of Brighton on this soggy night on the south coast sounded an ominous note for anyone wishing to wrestle away their crown.

This convincing, extremely routine 4-0 win saw City move ahead of Liverpool into second place and to within one point of Arsenal, with a game in hand on both of the teams who have made the title race so enthralling this season.

If Manchester City win their remaining five games they will claim a fourth successive Premier League title, a sixth in seven seasons, and history tells us there is every chance they will do it.

Arsenal will have a huge say in that, while Liverpool’s title pursuit now relies on slip-ups elsewhere as well as swiftly stopping their own dramatic decline in form.

It is City, however, who have been over this course and distance before to pass the finishing post first and there was certainly no sign of nerves at the Amex Stadium.

City have now gone 18 league games unbeaten, winning 14 and drawing four, since they lost 1-0 at Aston Villa in December.

And their world-class game changers are in full working order when it matters most.

Erling Haaland may be sidelined through injury but City always have a genius in waiting somewhere, or two in the shape of Phil Foden and Kevin de Bruyne on this occasion, as Brighton were outclassed.

De Bruyne is renowned for pretty much everything apart from his heading but he set City on their way here with a spectacular effort. It was the first header in his 68 league goals, a flying finish into the top corner from Kyle Walker’s cross. Is there anything the great Belgian cannot do?

Foden then added two more before half-time to reduce what looked like a tricky fixture to the status of a formality. He scored his first with a deflected free-kick, wrongly awarded for a slip not a foul. Brighton’s frustration was exacerbated by a decisive deflection off Pascal Gross which wrong-footed keeper Luke Steele.

He scored his second with help from Brighton’s high-risk strategy of playing out from the back. Surely there is a time and place, and in your own area, with teenager Valentin Barco the culprit on his Premier League debut, is neither the time nor the place.

These were Foden’s 50th and 51st Premier League goals for City, his potency simply adding further power to manager Pep Guardiola’s vast weaponry. Sixteen of those strikes have come this season.

And just to add to the picture of City as the complete team, Julian Alvarez’s fourth goal was started by a 71-yard pinpoint pass from goalkeeper Ederson to Walker. It ended a run of eight games without a goal for the Argentine, who worked so hard and deserved his reward.

Arsenal put their marker down first by sweeping Chelsea aside and while Liverpool’s response at Everton was weak, City made an emphatic statement of their own at Brighton.

The Seagulls are currently reduced by injuries and look jaded but the way City moved smoothly through the gears suggested they would have beaten most sides in this mood.

At the centre of all is the peerless Rodri, who breezed through this game to take his unbeaten run in Guardiola’s side to 69 matches.

Arsenal, unlike last season, do not look like they are going away although we will know more after Sunday’s north London derby at Tottenham Hotspur. Their aim must be to keep winning and hope for a trip elsewhere.

The problem is that it would be out of character for City to forget their lines at this stage of the season. They have been well-rehearsed over time with great success.

bbc

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