Monday 10 December 2018

Pep's centurions rule in style with late Jesus strike

Southampton 0 Manchester City 1

Gabriel Jesus celebrates after scoring the winner for Manchester City. Photo: Getty Images
Gabriel Jesus celebrates after scoring the winner for Manchester City. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Hayward

The deluge of records set by Manchester City may have numbed you to their 100 points in a league campaign. But it was the way they reached the 'ton' that confirmed its value.

Last kick of the game, after a mediocre display, and with pandemonium on the bench to almost match the Sergio Aguero title-winning goal of six years ago.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Southampton manager Mark Hughes. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Southampton manager Mark Hughes. Photo: Reuters

When Gabriel Jesus beat Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy moments before the end of added time, City's coaches, subs and support staff burst out of their zone as if electrocuted.

Surging

They ran in all directions before converging and surging towards the City end of the ground.

The nervous nineties had City in their grip until their final kick of a campaign that set an indecent number of records.

Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte in action with Southampton's Charlie Austin. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte in action with Southampton's Charlie Austin. Photo: Reuters

Incredibly, Mark Hughes was also the losing manager six years ago when his Queens Park Rangers side conceded twice in stoppage time (to Edin Dzeko and Aguero) as City ripped the trophy from Manchester United's hands.

Their first English championship for 44 years carried a bit more lustre than the statistical landmark reached in Hampshire, but nobody should downplay this moving of the boundaries.

The previous high of 98 points was set over 42 games by the great Liverpool team of 1978-79.

City also set a new high of 32 wins, beating Tottenham's haul of 57 years ago - as well as a new winning points margin of 19, and a best away wins tally of 16. Their 106 goals came with a record goal difference of plus-79.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling keeps the ball from Southampton's Maya Yoshida. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling keeps the ball from Southampton's Maya Yoshida. Photo: Reuters

And yet, like a batsman dreaming of the Lord's honours board, game No 38 against Southampton, who finished 64 points behind the champions, they made hard work of a game described by Guardiola as "so complicated, so tough and hot".

City played like a side who wanted those 100 points, but had slackened off.

Teams who do this struggle to switch back on. Even Kevin De Bruyne's passing was wonky.

Southampton were tenacious after midweek results had virtually guaranteed their survival.

Southampton's Shane Long comes on as a substitute to replace Charlie Austin. Photo: Reuters
Southampton's Shane Long comes on as a substitute to replace Charlie Austin. Photo: Reuters

They certainly played well enough to leave City stranded on 98 points, until a long chip by De Bruyne found Jesus on the edge of Southampton's six-yard box.

You saw what these numbers meant when the entire travelling party rushed to celebrate with the away supporters. The aptly-named Claudio Bravo ran the length of the pitch to join in.

Prominent among the revellers were Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz - two youngsters sent on to seal their entitlement to a championship medal (the threshold is five appearances).

This was a notable gesture by Guardiola: a nod to dressing-room solidarity over statistics, and to the future, in which City's youth academy products surely must feature.

"One hundred points? Premier League 100 points?" Guardiola asked as he joined us in the press room. "That's a massive achievement."

City's manager admitted his team had trained "not so much" last week "because in our mind it was already over", but insisted his side were "focused on the game".

A game, we should say, with a changed dynamic, because Southampton's win at Swansea last Tuesday night had virtually guaranteed their survival.

But even with the goal difference numbers in their favour, Hughes's team were determined to leave a good impression in the minds of their fans.

The last four matches is leaving it late to start a surge - a fact that intensifies doubts about their attitude in the previous 34 fixtures.

No reservations could be attached to City, beyond their heavy Champions League quarter-final defeat to Liverpool.

In the domestic league, they played with beauty, spirit, enterprise.

Theirs was not a victory only of money. It was a triumph of coaching and management - a victory for a grand idea, imposed by players bought for their creativity.

Faith

Plenty of clubs have thrown money around without making self-expression such an article of faith.

Most of Guardiola's players will have to rouse themselves again for a World Cup campaign.

Many will be tired from the intensity of their manager's methods. But each can thank him for making them a better player.

Which record, we asked, was Guardiola's favourite?

"The favourite is the way we play," he said.

"The numbers are a consequence of what we've done in terms of the way we've played and the mentality. You cannot achieve 100 points if you drop games.

"So that's why our consistency once again showed up today. A lot of goals and a lot of points. Wins at home, wins away.

"Everything was perfect this season. And we finished the way we deserved to finish."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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