Sergio Aguero’s last Premier League goal came against Sheffield United and in January. It was neither this game against United nor even this January. Manchester City have surged to the top of the division without their record scorer. Belatedly, at least, they had a goal from a specialist striker.
Gabriel Jesus’ first in the league for almost three months saw off Sheffield United, denying the bottom club a Manchester double in the space of four days. “We were 12th not a long time ago,” Pep Guardiola said.
Now they have 12 successive victories in all competitions and if a team who have sometimes been at their most deadly with a false nine have excelled in finding ways to win, this came courtesy of a scrappy goal from a centre-forward.
“We don’t have one player to win the games for himself or to score two or three goals a game,” Guardiola said. “Our top scorers are not in the first 10 or 12 in the league so we have to do it as a team. Still the players run and fight like animals.”
And they can defend. Jesus’ goal was allied with yet another clean sheet, City’s 15th in 19 outings, as they extended their outstanding defensive record. In their last eight games, only League Two Cheltenham Town have scored against them and, besides saving a tame shot from Rhian Brewster, whose wait to open his United account goes on, Ederson was a spectator. He also watched John Fleck’s well-struck half-volley fly just wide in the final minutes as United’s policy of containment could have reaped a reward. “They can take you to the cleaners, but they didn’t,” said Chris Wilder.
“People think if we won the last one 5-0, we will win this one 5-0,” Guardiola said. “This is the real world, not a fairy-tale.”
Much of the match amounted to sterile domination. City retained possession with ease, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva running the game, Ruben Dias lending solidity at the back and Phil Foden gliding past defenders on some slaloming solo runs, but a 75 percent share of the ball only produced 10 shots.
It amounted to one of the least eventful games of the season but if some of City’s run of wins have come in spectacular style, more forgettable victories carry the same reward. Guardiola was also able to rest Raheem Sterling and John Stones while only requiring Rodri for the final few minutes.
City had the cushion of a lead after nine minutes, courtesy of Jesus’ first goal in 10 league matches. “To play for a top club I have to score,” said the Brazilian. “It’s important.”
United had defended so defiantly in winning at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Their lone lapses came early on as they failed to clear a long ball, then Jayden Bogle failed to dispossess Ferran Torres when he was sat down or to prevent him from crossing after he regained his footing. Jesus had time in the six-yard box to take a couple of touches before digging out a shot. “Disappointed in the goal we conceded,” Wilder said.
Thereafter, the quicksilver Silva almost scored with a header after intercepting Ethan Ampadu’s attempted pass back. But an impasse developed. “When I saw the freezing weather I said this would be the toughest game of the season,” Guardiola said.
It was a slog, and City were unable to double their lead. Aaron Ramsdale has endured a traumatic season but he excelled. The goalkeeper made a flying save to tip Oleksandr Zinchenko’s shot past the post, tipped Aymeric Laporte’s header from the resulting corner over and made a brilliant injury-time stop to deny Jesus a second. But that rare thing – one goal from a striker – sufficed.