Manchester: Manchester City scored three times in the second half to reclaim top spot in the Premier League with a 3-0 victory over Brighton. The scoreline did not tell the full story of a nervy contest at Etihad Stadium in which the champions were frustrated by Brighton before the break.
It took deflected strikes from Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden for them to break through and the sense of relief that swept round the ground after an anxious opening period was tangible.
Bernardo Silva settled any nerves completely with a fine third goal for the hosts eight minutes from time as City regained its one-point lead. Liverpool’s 4-0 hammering of Manchester United on Tuesday had put the pressure back on City in a thrilling title race.
City manager Pep Guardiola made six changes following the loss to Liverpool in the FA Cup semifinals on Saturday, with Kevin De Bruyne and Ederson among those to return. Consequently, there was no shortage of confidence from the home side but Brighton was in no mood to make things easy.
City first showed its threat after 10 minutes, piecing together a slick move and Foden whipped in a cross from the left but Mahrez failed to make decent contact with his header.
Mahrez was gifted another chance soon after when goalkeeper Robert Sanchez’s clearance fell straight to him but the Algerian took too long and allowed Moises Caicedo to get back and tackle. Sanchez was more convincing when he punched away De Bruyne’s cross and also did well to claw away an effort from Silva under his own bar.
The closest City came in the first half was when De Bruyne unleashed a ferocious shot from distance but it flew narrowly wide. City continued to push but Brighton’s determination was epitomised before the break by captain Lewis Dunk, who stood firm to block Ilkay Gundogan’s effort.
City was forced into a change at halftime as Nathan Ake, who started at left back, was replaced by Ruben Dias because of a knock. Dias, himself returning to action after nine games out injured, took up his familiar position at center back with John Stones moving to right back and Joao Cancelo switching flanks to the left.
City upped the tempo and forced a succession of corners before finally making the breakthrough after 53 minutes. De Bruyne led a breakaway from deep and fed Mahrez, although the pass was made better by a lucky ricochet. With the chance opening up, Mahrez raced in on goal and hit a shot that also took a deflection, this time off Joel Veltman, and looped over goalkeeper Sanchez.
With that, a lot of the tension seemed to evaporate. Brighton remained resolute enough to block an effort from Stones in a crowded area and for Sanchez to save well from De Bruyne, but the visitors were breached again on 65 minutes.
Again City benefited from a stroke of fortune as Foden took aim from distance following a corner and saw his effort clip Enock Mwepu to wrong-foot Sanchez and find the bottom corner.
Foden went close to another after being put through soon after but Sanchez stood tall to save with his legs. City wrapped up the game late on after Brighton made a mess of playing out from the back.
Substitute Oleksandr Zinchenko won possession and found De Bruyne, who in turn fed Silva to sweep home from the edge of the area.