Sunday 17 February 2019

City rise from their lethargy to leave hapless Terriers cast adrift

Huddersfield 0 Manchester City 3

De Bruyne: Wasteful in possession. Photo: Getty Images
De Bruyne: Wasteful in possession. Photo: Getty Images

Jim White

The chase continues. Never mind that this was hardly Manchester City at their best, a routine victory moves Pep Guardiola's team back to within four points of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

More to the point, another three strikes were added to their bold attempt to break every known goalscoring record.

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City is tackled by Jason Puncheon of Huddersfield. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Raheem Sterling of Manchester City is tackled by Jason Puncheon of Huddersfield. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

For Huddersfield, the consequence was very different. This defeat leaves them 10 points adrift of safety. It was a dire defeat, ripe with evidence of the Premier League's unbreachable quality gap, and provided a fitting full-stop to a week which began miserably with the departure of manager David Wagner.

For Mark Hudson, the man who stepped in to hold the fort, there was to be no Ole Gunnar Solskjaer effect. With Borussia Dortmund coach Jan Siewert set to be appointed later this week, this is likely to be Hudson's sole match in charge.

He will have had long enough to have seen why Wagner felt he could do no more.

For all the wonders the German may have delivered in his 3½ years in Yorkshire, he has left Huddersfield with a squad so bereft of quality there is only one direction they are heading. Too many anonymous journeymen delivering too little meaningful application is no recipe for escape.

Steve Mounie of Huddersfield chases down Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Steve Mounie of Huddersfield chases down Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

For the first 10 minutes, City seemed oddly reticent, unable to find the right pass to unlock Huddersfield's determined, if limited, defence.

True, Raheem Sterling should have been awarded a penalty after Terence Kongolo brought him down.

Five minutes later, Danilo whipped in a speculative cross-shot. For some reason, Christopher Schindler decided to bow in front of it as if in supplication, succeeding only in deflecting the ball off the top of his head beyond goalkeeper Jonas Lossl. It was City's 100th goal of the season in all competitions. Perhaps more pertinently, it was the 21st goal recorded since they last conceded.

But if it looked as if the floodgates had just been hospitably held open, City could not oblige. Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, even Kevin de Bruyne were wasteful in possession, pedestrian in build-up. There was an uncharacteristic lack of precision about City's efforts: crosses were too long, through balls rolled too far, passes went astray.

Manchester City's Brazilian defender Danilo shoots but over the bar. Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images
Manchester City's Brazilian defender Danilo shoots but over the bar. Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images

Fernandinho apart, so lethargic were City, Guardiola clearly read the riot act at half-time. "We adjusted some things when we had the ball," was the City manager's euphemistic analysis. "Without the ball, we didn't suffer too much. We adjust to attack more fluently inside and outside."

They did that all right. Soon after the restart, Sterling came to life, scuttling across the Huddersfield area before working the ball back to De Bruyne. The Belgian fed an offside-looking Sane, whose inviting cross was nodded in by Sterling.

Moments later, there was another example of City's clinical core.

Jason Puncheon, making his first Huddersfield appearance on loan from Crystal Palace, gave the ball straight to Danilo, who duly fired a long ball on to Sergio Aguero's forehead. His deft lay-off to Sane was perfection. The German did not have to break stride as he ran on, feinted, left Lossl on his haunches and slipped the ball into the net.

Huddersfield Town's English midfielder Jason Puncheon (R) passes the ball. Photo by Getty Images
Huddersfield Town's English midfielder Jason Puncheon (R) passes the ball. Photo by Getty Images

There was no way back for Huddersfield, their haplessness summed up when, with the last shot of the game, substitute Steve Mounie missed from a yard out. Life after Wagner looks chastening indeed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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