Tuesday 6 December 2016

Returning De Bruyne sparks City into life

Bournemouth 0-4 Manchester City

Ed Aarons

Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30

Artur Boruc of Bournemouth dives in vain as Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City scores his team's second goal. Photo: Getty
Artur Boruc of Bournemouth dives in vain as Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City scores his team's second goal. Photo: Getty
Bournemouth defender Steve Cook jumps to head the ball as goalkeeper Artur Boruc prepares to punch clear. Photo: Getty
Manchester City's Spanish midfielder David Silva vies with Bournemouth's Andrew Surman. Photo: Getty
Kevin de Bruyne (2nd R) of Manchester City celebrates scoring. Photo: Getty

If Manchester City could play Bournemouth every week, this season's title race would probably have been wrapped up long ago. A clinical performance inspired by the returning Kevin De Bruyne saw Manuel Pellegrini's side end their long wait for a Premier League away victory and keep alive any faint title hopes they may still harbour.

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The damning statistic before this match was that City were unbeaten in 16 games against the clubs in the bottom half of the table. It was hardly surprising to see them race into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes against a side they had already thrashed 5-1 earlier in the season. But after a run of four defeats in six matches, it was the manner with which Bournemouth were swatted aside here which made an impression ahead of Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Paris Saint-Germain.

City's decline since De Bruyne tore ligaments in his knee and ankle in the Capital One Cup semi-final victory over Everton back in January has been stark. Trailing leaders Leicester back then by just three points and in second place, they have picked up just seven points from as many matches to significantly reduce the chances of sending Pellegrini off into the sunset with another championship winners' medal.

Yet with the suddenly very real prospect of welcoming Pep Guardiola next season with the unwanted present of a place in the Europa League, this was a crucial performance for City. A match against opponents who are already all but assured of their Premier League status for next season on a warm spring afternoon on the south coast may not have been the toughest of challenges, yet the sparkling interchanges between their talented front three will offer great encouragement ahead of the trip to Paris on Wednesday.

Deployed almost up alongside Sergio Aguero in a central attacking role, De Bruyne was into the action from the start as his clever back-heel almost played in David Silva. From the resulting corner, Bournemouth should have cleared, but it still took an expert piece of readjustment from Fernando to hook the ball into the net.

The hosts, who were without striker Benik Afobe due to a hamstring injury, had actually created the opening chance of the game two minutes earlier, only for Josh King to screw horribly wide when played through by Lewis Grabban. It was a moment they would live to regret.

City's second goal was everything that a combined £116m in transfer fees should buy you. Aguero's cunning lob played Silva in behind the Bournemouth defence and his ball to pick out the onrushing De Bruyne to lash home was sublime. The Belgian should probably have doubled his tally shortly afterwards, but for once his radar was off target and the ball sailed over the bar. It hardly mattered though as Aguero effectively sealed the points in the 19th minute when he somehow rose highest to nod home from Jesus Navas's cross.

A Fernandinho blockbuster from 25 yards which struck the woodwork spared Bournemouth more misery, although to their credit Eddie Howe's side continued to try and play their passing game. A good save from Joe Hart's stand-in Willy Caballero denied Steve Cook from a corner on the half-hour, while Grabban headed over soon after.

So disappointed was Howe by their performance that the Bournemouth manager sent his players out for the second half five minutes early. Yet within 60 seconds of the restart, normal service was resumed as Aguero was unlucky to see his effort saved by Artur Boruc. De Bruyne then slammed a shot just past the post as City continued to pour forward.

He was given a standing ovation when replaced by Aleksandar Kolarov soon after, with Samir Nasri also making his first appearance since the win over Bournemouth back in October. Both spurned chances to seal this victory late on before Kolarov finally found the net with a rasping shot in injury-time, even if by that stage the contest had been over for some time.

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