Football Features

Man City 1-0 Leicester: Five things learned as ‘Guardiola’s Grinders’ close in on title

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:18, 6 May 2019

In a tense and fraught night, Manchester City beat Leicester 1-0.

The win led City to their 13th straight win in the league, registering their 100th home goal, and most importantly it took Pep Guardiola’s men to the top of the league and within one game of retaining their Premier League title. What did we learn?

1. Captain Marvel

When you’re struggling in a pressure situation, you need your captain to step up and help guide your team through it. Now given most captains are defenders this tends to be in the form of a good team-talk or a few well-placed shouts to key forwards. And if they are to help you through it themselves, they usually do so from corners.

Now, Vincent Kompany has done this before. Back in 2012 when City were chasing their first Premier League title of the modern era, Kompany thundered a monumental header in at the Etihad to win City the Manchester Derby and put one hand on the title. That was a classic Kompany goal and a classic “captain” moment.

It’s something we thought we’d seen the end of when Pep Guardiola arrived. Ho would this increasingly (due to age and injury) immobile defender who was an average passer going to make it under Pep? Well due to the injury-prone nature of City’s other centre-backs, Kompany has persisted all the up to now, and it’s just as well that he did.

City were facing their biggest pressure situation all season. 0-0 against Leicester and they knew they needed a win to go back to the top of the league. With just one game to play after this, City’s margin for error was non-existent. Liverpool would not throw away a lead if they were gifted it by City dropping points. They had to win, yet all of their creativity and dominance kept breaking on the Leicester defence, like waves on a rocky shore. They were growing desperate and sloppy.

Perhaps a little sloppiness is exactly what City needed? Because when Vincent Kompany picked the ball up just inside the Leicester half, the sensible thing to do would have been to feed the ball wide. The sloppy, stupid thing to do would be to keep pushing forward. Leicester knew this, and basically invited Kompany forward. He thought about the shot, reconsidered, but then took one more touch and went for it.

This thing, this shot, exploded off his foot like one of Captain Marvel’s photon blasts. It tore through the air and buried itself in the back of the net. Kasper Schmeichel could do nothing. You could have had two goalkeepers and they’d have done nothing. This was nothing but fantasy. For a captain, a lumbering centre-back at that, to step up and get his side a goal in that situation, in that manner? To all but seal the Premier League title? The first time a team will retain the title for over a decade? Pure superheroics.

Vincent Kompany, you are now immortal.

2. Guardiola’s Grinders

Manchester City are the best side in the Premier League. That will be true whether they win the title or not. They are the most cohesive and play the best football. When they’re in the mood, which is most of the time, they are sublime to watch. A joyous harmony, a dedication to some of very best in entertainment this sport can offer.

But look at how they have put themselves in pole position to win the title. After their Champions League elimination they knew the pressure was on for them to win every single game, and to the present they have done just that in ruthless form. Nothing spectacular, just brutal wins.

Sure, they’ve played good football, but it’s been colder, more controlled. The joy has been replaced by a grimness and focus. They’ve been out to get it done, and the scorelines have reflected this. 1-0 against Spurs, 2-0 against Manchester United, 1-0 against Burnley and the same against Leicester tonight. Four consecutive clean sheets after their rocky defence got them dumped out of Europe is a huge statement and it’s put them on the verge of glory. No one questions their quality, but now we have to acknowledge and appreciate their mental strength.

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3. The Raiding of Leicester, chapter two?

After Leicester won the 2015/16 Premier League title, many assumed that their plucky side would get ripped apart by the big Premier League sides they had beaten to the title. But in the end only N’Golo Kanté left that summer, joining Chelsea. Riyad Mahrez stayed until summer 2018 when he joined Manchester City, whilst Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel are still there.

For the first time since that title win, Leicester have assembled a side that has serious talent in it. On display at the Etihad was the brilliance of Brendan Rodgers’ boys. James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi, Harry Maguire, Ben Chilwell, Hamza Choudhury even Youri Tielemans although he is only on loan at the club.

That is an incredible pool of talent, and unlike in 2016 there is no high of the afterglow from a league title win, nor the lure of Champions League football next season. With that in mind, it’s very easy to see the Foxes getting raided for real this time and losing the core of this wonderful side. It would be a shame, but football can be ruthless sometimes.

4. Stardust Silva

On a night where Manchester City were in full-on grind mode, there was one player who couldn’t help be thrilling. In fact that’s basically been the case in this whole grinding run of games. City have been ruthless and efficient but only one player was playing with the same kind of imagination as always, and that’s Bernardo Silva.

You feel sorry for Leroy Sané, seeing him sat on the bench all glum, but how can he complain when Bernardo Silva is playing like this? The Portuguese is pulsating, weaving in and out of defenders, playing killer passes and dangerous crosses. His head was always up and in one season he’s gone from being City’s second-choice right-winger and second-choice Silva to being first choice for both.

5. The Title looms large

Manchester City are one win away from the Premier League title. That in itself is an impressive statement, but when you look deeper it becomes phenomenal. City beating Brighton would be their 14th straight win, 14! It would give them 98 points, just two shy of their record-setting 100 from last season. And they will need every single one of those points because Liverpool will finish behind them on 97.

97 points is the third-highest total any club has ever managed in the Premier League, and it’s not going to win the title. Again, that in itself is a ridiculous thing to have to say but the fact is that this title race is not one between two contenders, but it is Liverpool assaulting Manchester City’s title. They are looking to retain their title, playing with all the expectation that comes with. They are getting every team’s best performances of the season, every side wants to be the one to take them down. And worse, they’ve had injuries to key man Kevin de Bruyne that rendered him a spectator for much of the campaign. No one has retained the title since 2009, and only two managers have ever done it in the modern era.

Yet City are now just one win away from the Premier League title. One win away from history.