City remain five points clear at the top of the Premier League after beating West Brom 3-2 at The Hawthorns. The Blues set a host of new records in the process, though this wasn’t quite as comfortable a victory as it might have been, given the number of chances missed after the break and a couple of untidily conceded goals.
What happened? With nine changes made from the midweek penalty shoot-out win over Wolves, City arrived at The Hawthorns looking for a second win over Tony Pulis’ side in six weeks. With the Carabao Cup victory over the Baggies still fresh in the memory, the first half took on a familiar pattern as the Blues went ahead, were pegged back and then regained the lead in a frantic start. City started like a side who were unbeaten in 20 games with supreme confidence and the sort of movement and passing that has earned Pep Guardiola’s side so many rave reviews of late. The Blues almost broke the deadlock after just seven minutes with a sweeping move that started with a 50-yard Kevin De Bruyne pass to Kyle Walker whose low cross was inches away from Gabriel Jesus and David Silva’s return ball saw Leroy Sane go close with a low shot. The German winger didn’t have to wait long before he did punish the hosts’ defence, however, as he thumped home a shot from inside the box after Fernandinho spotted his run on the left. Ben Foster could do no more than watch it admiringly as it fizzed past him and it seemed as though City were once again off on the rampage. But the Baggies were level with their first real attack just three minutes later with a goal that opened up the Blues’ defence as Gareth Barry’s lofted ball found Jay Rodriguez who nipped in ahead of John Stones and Ederson to lob the ball into the empty net. This City team don’t seem to take kindly to conceding goals, however, and within two minutes, the Blues were back in front. Fernandinho, some 20 yards out, hit a low shot that may or may not have been slightly off target but a kind deflection or two later ensured the ball ended up striking the foot of the post before nestling in the back of the net. There were one or two worried faces when Jonny Evans clattered De Bruyne, but the Belgian gingerly picked himself up to the relief of the travelling Blue army. City should have increased the lead on 27 minutes when De Bruyne’s precision cross found David Silva’s run but the skipper headed over with from six yards out. The hosts could have gone into the break level after some loose passing at the back by City that Rodriguez and Rondon almost profited from, but the latter’s header went a foot or so over the bar. West Brom proved a handful in the second period of the Carabao Cup tie last month, and they again could have levelled just two minutes after the restart as Allan Nyom’s deep cross found the head of Grzegorz Krychowiak and Ederson did well to collect cleanly on his goal-line. But the Blues had been in control almost from the word go and anything other than three points would have been harsh. And City finally got the breathing space needed on 64 minutes and it was that man Raheem Sterling – in such a rich vein of form – who swept in Walker’s excellent cross just three minutes after climbing off the bench. It was the result of a wonderful 19-pass team move that will have delighted the manager and was much more like the silky, unstoppable attacking force the Blues have been this campaign. Silva and De Bruyne should have extended City’s winning margin in the time that remained and the Baggies pulled a late goal back through Matt Phillips to ensure a nervy last few seconds, but nobody was complaining as the sky blue juggernaut steams ahead.
City Matchday App star man: Leroy Sane
Terrific, energetic and inventive display by a born athlete.
What it means: City stay five points clear at the top of the Premier League with Manchester United winning 1-0 against Spurs.
What’s next? The Blues travel to Naples for the second game against Serie A leaders Napoli on Wednesday evening and if results go City’s way, Round of 16 qualification could be confirmed. Then it’s back to Premier League action with Arsenal visiting the Etihad next a week on Sunday.
Stats and milestones: City have now won the last 13 meetings against West Brom in all competitions – 12 Premier League and 1 Carabao Cup victory. The Blues have equalled the Club record for successive away wins with victory at The Hawthorns with a sixth straight win on the road matching the run of wins set between 7 March to 26 September 1903. The Blues have now won 13 games in a row in all competitions - a new Club record. City are now unbeaten in 21 games – a new Club record.