Manchester City will remain top of the Premier League this weekend and continue to establish themselves as the favourites in this season’s title race, even if this was only a narrow and one-paced win over bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United. A much-needed goal for Gabriel Jesus came early and Pep Guardiola’s side showed little urgency to add another.
Even after masterminding the midweek win at Old Trafford, Chris Wilder admitted pre-match that he did not know how to set his players up to beat a team in the form of City. He was right, he didn’t, but he will take pride from the fact that his side stayed in contention until the final whistle.
John Fleck might have salvaged an unlikely point, firing only a few inches wide of Ederson’s far post in the closing stages. There was even a point in the five minutes of added-on time when Jesus and Bernardo Silva were shielding the ball in the corner, fearful that another Blades counter-attack might cost them two points.
PLAYER RATINGS: How Man City and Sheffield United performed in hosts’ narrow win
Yet apart from that, City had this contest in a stranglehold and were always in control. This was City’s fifth straight league clean sheet and 13th consecutive win in all competitions – a club record, so long as you don’t count a penalty shoot-out win against Wolves that fell slap bang in the middle of a 20-game streak three-and-a-half years ago.
That was during the 100-point season, when Guardiola’s side played a style that was as intense as it was irrepressible. Nowadays, they are very different.
Despite hitting five past West Bromwich Albion in midweek and recent hints that Guardiola has loosened the shackles on his attack, this was very much a return to a slower if no less dominant style. Very little happened in the first half after the ninth minute and Jesus’ first league goal since November.
It owed everything to Ferran Torres. On his first league start since Boxing Day, the summer signing from Valencia did brilliantly to keep the ball in at the byline and protect it from not only Jayden Bogle but Ethan Ampadu too. Having wriggled away from both, he picked out Jesus unmarked in the six-yard box, leaving him with a simple finish.
The only other notable aspect of the first half was both sides apparently forgetting how to take a throw-in. Before Jesus’ breakthrough, a foul throw by Bernardo was immediately followed by one from the visitors that went directly out of play. Oleksandar Zinchenko was penalised for another foul throw midway through the half.
It was not all bad, though. In fairness to Sheffield United, they were holding their own, coping with the few City forays that came their way and did well to prevent the league leaders from converting all their possession into clear-cut scoring opportunities.
The first half’s walking pace continued into the second, with only a few speculative efforts for distance enlivening the final stages. The much-maligned Aaron Ramsdale denied Oleksandar Zinchenko and Jesus with fine one-handed saves either side of Fleck’s chance – a swerving strike from the edge of the penalty area that dropped just wide.
But for the Blades, that was as good as it got. Wilder would not have expected much more than that at the start of the day and will take heart from the performance on the whole. Guardiola, meanwhile, celebrates his 500th career win in management and City march on in a manner that is not as breathtaking as what we have seen in the past but still brutally effective.
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