On the horizon where beauty and sadism meet, Manchester City tore Brighton into sumptuous and ornate pieces. It was luxurious, cruel, useless and, in a strange way, it seemed to mean everything. Everyone knows that City’s biggest battles are farther away: in the Champions League and in the court of Lausanne, where they will learn their fate on Monday. And here, with nothing tangible to play for in the league, City could just play for the joy of playing, encouraged by opposition more than happy to let them do it.
Raheem Sterling did a hat-trick, Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva did each, but then everyone was having too much fun to keep counting. Despite all the muffled celebrations and multiple substitutions, giving the whole feeling of an international friendly against a small island nation with a precious vote on the FIFA executive committee, City’s intensity was irrepressible and irresistible. Perhaps, on second thought, this is the best way to appreciate Pep Guardiola’s baroque creation: without fans, without background noise, without forced narratives. Only football as its own lavish end.
“Raheem is improving, even in the finishes, the quality of the footage, he has improved a lot,” said Guardiola ominously. For the manager, this was another opportunity to create new combinations and make old ones. The famous front five we knew: Sterling looks at his best, thriving with the service of Riyad Mahrez and Jesus at his side, Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne at the rear. All five may have scored here. But, interestingly, even in this goal-scoring victory, the most encouraging signs were further behind.
In defense, the nascent partnership between Aymeric Laporte and teenager Eric García is turning into something very special. If García is still occasionally vulnerable in direct duels – Aaron Connolly pushed him a little too easily at one point here – then he more than makes up for the technical and decision-making qualities that are already approaching the elite. With the quietly excellent Rodri again pulling the strings, City’s core looks well-equipped for another title attack next season.
And so, with the game leaning quickly in one direction, it was to no one’s surprise that City finally found a way in the 21st minute. Mahrez had time to attach a long round ball to Jesus in the front, which deftly put a header in Sterling’s path. Sterling took a look, tapped it and rolled the ball in the bottom corner. And despite all desperate attempts to chase, at no point in this sequence of events did a Brighton player come close to making a challenge: a perfect socially distant goal that said as much about Brighton’s docility as City’s ability to deceive them.
Still, the bombs continued to rain. Jesus hit the bar. Mahrez bowed slightly after another lightning bolt. Two minutes before the break, the imposing Rodri got ahead of Adam Webster and hit De Bruyne’s corner, giving Jesus the easiest to score on the far post. And when Sterling took his second goal, a simple header from Mahrez’s undisputed cross to crown a relentless start to City’s second half, even the cardboard cutouts at Amex Stadium could have been forgiven for leaving early to beat the traffic.
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Probably, if not mathematically safe, Graham Potter’s side remains a gloriously flawed machine: polished and expansive, probably the most attractive side of the bottom half, yet able to fall with the slightest breeze.
Solve the defense and there is potential top-10 on the side. But it will take some new employees and maybe even a change of culture, as they are now the type of team you like to play.
By this time, the wheels were really starting to come loose. Bernardo Silva fired a quarter after Mat Ryan spilled his opening shot and finally the finish: Sterling completing his hat trick, although he knew little, the ball hitting his head and dripping over the line as he fell on the lawn. battery. It was that kind of game for City. It really was that kind of restart.