Football Features

Sheffield United 0-1 Man City: Five things learned as a familiar face rescues Guardiola’s men again

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 21:50, 21 January 2020

Manchester City were once again grateful to Sergio Aguero as they ran out narrow 1-0 winners at Sheffield United.

Pep Guardiola’s champions were made to sweat for all three points which at one stage looked like was slipping through their fingers as they aimed to maintain a respectable deficit behind runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Sergio Aguero, who is now the league’s fourth most prolific goalscorer, came off the bench deep into the second half to settle the contest and there was a welcome return for centre-back Aymeric Laporte.

Chris Wilder would rue it didn’t end all square, but can have no complaints with the scoreline, though did once again see his charges put up a valiant effort against one of English football’s big boys.

As the dust begins to settle, here are five things we learned from this Bramall Lane encounter.

1. City’s spot-kick woes continue

Gabriel Jesus thought he was going to break the deadlock when tasked from 12 yards with nine minutes of the first half to be played. Should the Brazilian marksman have been confident given he’s already missed from the spot this season (albeit that came in the Champions League against Atalanta). Would it have preyed on his mind? We don’t know. But he did miss again.

Jesus is not alone. Raheem Sterling also missed, against Wolves though it was retaken, with Sergio Aguero — who holds a 100% record regarding penalties — on the bench it was natural that a forward stood up to be counted. But given the club’s best dead-ball specialist is a midfielder (Kevin De Bruyne) one wonders why he’s not taking them in Kun’s absence especially when a spot-kick should essentially be a free goal.

2. Are you watching Southgate?

No fewer than seven players eligible to represent England started tonight’s game at Bramall Lane with Sterling and Kyle Walker being the most high-profile. National team boss Gareth Southgate who’s undoubtedly finalising his Euro 2020 squad, whilst praying for no more serious injuries befalling key personnel, has previously selected Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson (on loan from Man Utd) in four matchday squads, but all with him remaining on the bench.

He would have been pleased with his performance this evening. Aside from making a number of outstanding saves, including bizarrely from close range to deny Nicolas Otamendi who pulled off a spectacular overhead kick, he was up to the challenge to deny Jesus from 12 yards. Jordan Pickford is the Three Lions undisputed number one, but tonight was a reminder of the strong competition behind him. England’s upcoming friendlies in March — against Italy and Denmark — is a perfect opportunity to bed him in.

3. A game of tactical fouls

It’s fast becoming renowned as part of Guardiola’s armory, though commonplace in the game since time immemorial, and even The Blades indulged in such arts. We are, of course, talking about ‘tactical fouling’. Fernandinho, no stranger to such instructions, was booked in the second half not long after Oliver Norwood was shown a yellow for the exact same crime. Some may wince, but it’s part and parcel of the beautiful game, especially given the speed it is being played at these days. You either risk giving away a one-on-one opportunity or ensure the counter is repelled by any means necessary.

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4. De Bruyne to Agüero

We’ve seen this many times before. In fact twice across City’s last three outings; that being De Bruyne and Agüero linking up for a goal. Since both played their first game alongside each other, against Juventus in 2015, they’ve combined for 24 goals with 23 of those finished off by Agüero as you’d expect.

Tonight’s match in Yorkshire was the 144th occasion De Bruyne and Agüero shared the pitch together, albeit the latter was a second half substitute, he came to his side’s rescue when it seemed this was going to be another disappointing result. Agüero’s goal, a simple tap-in, was beautifully created by his partner-in-crime — making him the first Premier League player to create a minimum of 15 goals in three separate campaigns.

5. Welcome back

To say Manchester City have missed Aymeric Laporte is an understatement. After being sidelined for 144 days he was back in Pep Guardiola’s starting lineup. No hesitation. You get the feeling, post-Vincent Kompany, he’s the one centre-back that Guardiola trusts. When playing at his optimum the Frenchman sits alongside Virgil van Dijk and Toby Alderweireld as the league’s premier CBs. In his absence, the defending Premier League champions have flattered to deceive at the back. Aside from his overall play, in both defence and offence, Laporte’s leadership was sorely missed. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

City’s chances of clinching a third successive top-flight crown is slim to none (if we are being really honest) given Liverpool’s lead with 15 matches or so to play is 16 points. The onus is to finish the championship on a high note; winning all their remaining games, having Laporte to call upon only enhances the possibility of that 100% run. Tonight, playing in a back-three alongside Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi, he’d last 78 minutes and during that stretch Laporte eased himself in winning headers, making a vital interception and pulling off two blocks. More importantly for Guardiola, he’d touch the ball 89 times, a tally only beaten by Fernandinho (103).

The rest of tonight’s Premier League action:

  • Aston Villa 2-1 Watford, saw Ezri Konsa score his first Premier League to win the game for Villa in the 95th minute.
  • Bournemouth 3-1 Brighton, in which Callum Wilson ended a run of 1,319 minutes without a Premier League.
  • Crystal Palace 0-2 Southampton, saw Nathan Redmond’s score the first goal outside the box in a Palace game this season.
  • Everton 2-2 Newcastle, in which Florian Lejeune rescued a point for the visitors after scoring twice in 102 seconds after the 90th minute.
  • Chelsea 2-2 Arsenal, saw Martinelli become the first teenager to score 10 goals for Arsenal in all competitions since Nicolas Anekla (1998/99).