Sunday 18 August 2019

Luck on Aguero's side as City close in on title

Guardiola's men rely on goal-line technology as race enters critical phase

Game of inches: Burnley’s Matthew Lowton unsuccessfully attempts to prevent Sergio Aguero’s strike from crossing the line. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Game of inches: Burnley’s Matthew Lowton unsuccessfully attempts to prevent Sergio Aguero’s strike from crossing the line. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Jason Burt

Such are the fine margins of this Premier League title race that it was perhaps appropriate that the precious strike that took Manchester City back to the top of the table only just crossed the goal-line.

It was a matter of millimetres - 29.51mm, to be precise, or just over an inch. And it inched City closer.

Sergio Aguero's sharp effort was given by goal-line technology, with referee Paul Tierney's wristwatch buzzing in confirmation as the striker and his team-mates desperately appealed that the ball was in before being hooked clear by Burnley defender Matthew Lowton.

It was. But only just. Aguero had shown his strength and determination to reach Bernardo Silva's in-swinging cross to hold off James Tarkowski on the edge of the six-yard area to finally beat goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Aguero's shot was chested up by Lowton as he got his body in the way, but the ball spun back over the line before the right-back volleyed it out.

Aguero puffed his cheeks in relief as Tierney indicated goal.

The win took City back ahead of Liverpool by, again, the smallest of margins, a single point, with these two extraordinary teams now having just two matches to play.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

There is a 21-point gap to third-placed Tottenham Hotspur, while City have achieved a stunning sequence of 12 wins in a row in the league since losing to Newcastle United in January and, yet, are only that point in front.

The nature of City's goal will also have had Liverpool fans thinking back to the meeting between the two at the turn of the year.

It remains the only defeat Liverpool have suffered in the league and there was another vital involvement then by goal-line technology as it showed that John Stones's spectacular clearance was made before the whole of the ball had crossed the line.

Those acrobatics prevented an own goal, which would have opened the scoring. The margin was 11mm. And on such tiny measures this title race could be settled. Talk about marginal gains.

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus in action with Burnley's James Tarkowski. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus in action with Burnley's James Tarkowski. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Stones was on the pitch at the end here, as was Nicolas Otamendi, with City having no fewer than four centre-halves in their team, taking off attacking players as they held out.

"It is a compliment that I saw and heard Pep Guardiola say, 'Get it in the corner'," Burnley manager Sean Dyche later said, but while his team made it tough for City, they were held at arm's length.

Rights

It was Dry Turf Moor, not just Turf Moor, with Guardiola highlighting the fact that the pitch had not been watered and the grass was left long which inevitably slowed down City's passing game.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling in action with Burnley's Dwight McNeil. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling in action with Burnley's Dwight McNeil. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

But Guardiola also stressed that Burnley, who were superbly marshalled by centre-half Ben Mee, were within their rights to do this.

And it was to Burnley's credit, given there was little at stake for them, that they were so determined.

City have eight days to prepare for the visit of Brendan Rodgers' Leicester - can the former Liverpool manager do them a favour? - and are away to Brighton on the final weekend.

For Liverpool, it is away to Newcastle and at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, with the added imponderable of an epic Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in the next two midweeks to break that up.

Without goal-line technology, City may well not have won this.

Dyche talked about making it "awkward" and "like a cup tie" for City and Burnley did just that, but the truth is, after a stodgy first-half, the champions created three or four good chances and probably should have had a penalty before they scored when Ashley Barnes escaped an apparent hand-ball as he leaned into a goal-bound shot by Bernardo.

Aguero's goal settled it and meant it is five seasons in a row the striker has scored 20 league goals or more. Only Thierry Henry, with Arsenal, had achieved that feat previously.

In the first-half, the best chance actually fell to Burnley's Chris Wood, but his touch inside the City area when he appeared to be clear was heavy, allowing Ederson to hurtle from goal and bravely smother.

Meanwhile, City struggled - summed up when Leroy Sane was ironically cheered by the Burnley fans for remonstrating with Aguero after another over-hit pass - although there was inevitably far greater urgency after the break.

City began to exert far more control.

The goalkeeper beat away a fierce drive from Aguero, then held on to a header by Aymeric Laporte, while he excelled in standing up to a powerful shot from Bernardo.

There was the penalty appeal and Aguero's goal before Mee made an incredible clearance after substitute Gabriel Jesus rounded Lowton and Heaton and appeared certain to score. Mee threw himself to force the ball away and, this time, it had not crossed the line.

Guardiola became increasingly agitated and first turned to Stones. When Burnley won a free-kick close to the City goal in injury-time, he hurried Otamendi on also, while the sight of Bernardo, twice, booting the ball up-field to no-one showed how fraught it was. The stakes are so high; the margins so tight. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

The Throw-In All-Ireland Hurling Final preview: Can Tipp's firepower edge clash with the Cats?

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport