Well, three points is three points. City’s 2-1 away victory against AFC Bournemouth did not come as easily as many fans had hoped and expected. Nevertheless, good teams need to be able to pull out a win when they aren’t clicking on all cylinders, and that is exactly what Manchester City did on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola returned his team to a 4-3-3 formation, making four lineup changes from last week’s game against Everton. We got our first look at Benjamin Mendy in a City kit and saw Bernardo Silva get his first Premier League start.
Manchester City showed promise at points throughout the match but lacked fluidity in their buildup play for stretches. City dominated possession at 70%, but Bournemouth were aggressive on the counter and showed a willingness to build an attack when they won the ball back. Bournemouth deployed a 3-5-2 formation (which often blended into a 5-3-2) with Jermain Defoe and Joshua King operating as the striker tandem.
This game was sloppy, particularly early on, and City found it difficult to maintain effective possession. Then Charlie Daniels decided to have an out of body experience in the 13th minute. The Bournemouth left back scored a beautiful goal when he stepped into a short clearance by Vincent Kompany and blasted it into the top corner of the goal off the half volley. Éderson never had a chance. I honestly couldn’t even bring myself to get upset because it was just that impressive.
Bournemouth would not have the lead for long however, as Gabriel Jesus equalized in the 21st minute. Bernardo Silva earned a free kick in the center of the pitch and Jesus played it quickly to David before making a run through the center of the defense. The Spanish magician then played a great through ball past four Bournemouth players that Jesus calmly put in the back of the net while fighting off Nathan Aké.
City’s best stretch came after the equalizer and they created many quality chances before the half, the best of which came when Kevin De Bruyne found Mendy who played a low cross on his first touch. Gabriel Jesus was on the receiving end but his shot went just wide. In fact, Mendy was dangerous all game, showing an ability to make smart runs and provide quality crosses from the left.
The Citizens lost the rhythm they had developed in the first half and had trouble connecting in the final third despite controlling possession in the second half. The buildup play was promising but their ability to turn it into quality chances left a lot to be desired. Bournemouth were comfortable committing men forward on set pieces and in possession, allowing City to have a few counter-attacking opportunities. However, the final pass often missed its mark and, to their credit, Bournemouth were able to recover quickly and effectively. The best scoring opportunity of the second half came on a corner where Otamendi’s header hit the woodwork.
Bournemouth created several counter-attacking chances, the most dangerous of which ended with a Joshua King shot ringing off the post. The Blues exhibited some flaws defending in transition and were far too reckless in possession at times. City were lucky to only concede one goal considering how often the defense was stretched thin when the ball was turned over.
Pep brought in Sergio Agüero and Leroy Sané late in the second half to add life to the attack, but City did not look like scoring the winning goal. Well, until seven minutes into stoppage time.
Perhaps we should give Pep credit that the game was still being played in the 97th minute. It was somewhat of a confusing interaction between the managers and officials but Pep was basically complaining about Bournemouth’s efforts to waste time. It was hard to say exactly how much time would be added on because the fourth official did not even display how much stoppage time would be played until almost the 92nd minute.
Nevertheless, you have to play until the whistle blows and Raheem Sterling salvaged the victory for the Blues. He played the ball wide to Danilo before making a nice cutback run into the center of the box where the City right back found him. Sterling had time to take a touch before lobbing the ball into the far side of the goal to secure the three points.
Sterling then led the whole team to the corner of the pitch where they celebrated with the traveling fans, who were obviously fired up. Unfortunately referee Mike Dean doesn’t understand how human emotions work and gave Sterling a second yellow card, meaning he will be suspended for City’s next match against Liverpool.
Overall, this game was not as satisfying as expected. City were by far the better team on Saturday and deserved the victory, but it wasn’t as dominant as many thought it would be. They will certainly play better as they develop stronger chemistry and when it all comes together it will be a beautiful thing. We’ve seen glimpses of how lethal this team can be through the first three games of the season and they are bound to start smashing teams when it clicks.
This Manchester City lineup is so fluid and there is so much interchanging between positions that developing chemistry can be more challenging than it would if there were more structured roles. But having this variety in the side maximizes City’s potential because it presents unique challenges for every defense they face.
This team is full of versatile and intelligent players who have been given the freedom to play with creativity. This game was a perfect example of that as City were nominally playing in 4-3-3 but the positional breakdown was very malleable.
Throughout the match, the front line would switch positions or drop deeper into the midfield based on the flow of the game. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, both of whom are often given the liberty to roam, ranged all over the pitch. Mendy and Danilo primarily provided width, but also made diagonal runs into the center of the pitch when a teammate already occupied the wing.
This dynamism presents many exciting opportunities and will give defenses nightmares all season. It was also interesting to see how City would look with a four-man backline, which is a structure that many fans still prefer despite the recent focus on the 3-5-2. Sacrificing a central defender did not deter the full backs from being aggressive and pushing far up the pitch. This is not surprising as Pep has never been one to be conservative, but it could make City vulnerable to teams who can effectively counter attack.
Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi were often spread wide while in possession and Fernandinho would drop right in between them. City will be particularly susceptible when Fernandinho makes attacking runs without a teammate covering for him. They maintained a very high line and pressed Bournemouth as soon as they regained possession. Bournemouth did not attempt many balls over the top but teams will certainly focus on that in the future. Éderson’s ability and willingness to operate as a sweeper keeper far from goal will reduce the risk this high line presents.
City did give up quite a few counter-attacking chances and the central defense was often left on an island to defend in space. Both Kompany and Otamendi were guilty of lunging into tackles to stop a fast break, receiving a yellow card each for their actions. Opposing forwards are going to run at the central defense when they are isolated like this and City will be exploited if their transitional defense doesn’t improve.
At the end of the day, it was an acceptable performance for the Blues and it’s a whole lot easier to tolerate the flaws we saw when they occur in a victory. There were plenty of positives to take away from this game as well and it’s only a matter of time before this team really gels. City will face their toughest test of the season to date when they meet Liverpool on September 9th after the international break.