Brighton 1 Manchester City 4
Manchester City cruise on, smooth, efficient, unbreached. But they will rarely face an examination like the one they experienced in the second half at the Amex. Graham Potter’s Brighton tested everything about them, their game management, their resilience, their defensive capabilities.
And their manager, Pep Guardiola, will have been delighted they passed the test: few teams in the Premier League could have emerged from this with three points.
It was as well City had seized the initiative with a first-half performance of blistering invention. Actually, they did more than seize the initiative: they gave demonstration that they are currently among the top sides in Europe. Actually, probably in the top one.
Guardiola had tasted a rare defeat here in the final game of last season, and sent out his team with instruction to secure victory early. Their first incursion came after seven minutes. Jack Grealish, his every touch tracked by boos, dribbled forward, then laid the ball back to Joao Cancelo, whose firm shot was saved well by Robert Sanchez.
A superb City breakaway saw Gabriel Jesus bearing in from the right of the penalty area. Sanchez went out to block his sight of goal, but the Brazilian, even as he tumbled to the turf, screwed a shot beyond him which appeared destined for the back of the net. Somehow, like an Olympic gymnast, Lewis Dunk managed to contort his body to scoop the ball away, as Phil Foden lurked.
Dunk wasn’t there, however, a minute later when Jesus and Bernardo Silva went up for a high ball with Sanchez. The keeper reached it first, but dropped the ball. Silva played it back and Ilkay Gundogan poked it into an empty net. The Brighton players argued their man had been impeded. Kevin Friend consulted Var, but the goal stood.
The visitors were wearing change shirts which referred to them as Man City on the front, thus causing several old-school supporters to grind their teeth in annoyance. But their passing would have had even the most diehard traditionalist purring in delight.
Adam Lallana was doing his best to match City for midfield invention, snapping into challenges and constantly looking for the decisive pass. The trouble was, City are as sound defensively as they are as an attacking force. And when Brighton approached their area, Marc Cucurella and Leandro Trossard exchanging quick passes, Ruben Dias intervened. His pass out of defence was picked up by Silva on the halfway line, who played an exquisite ball in behind to Grealish. He squared to Foden, who got ahead of Dan Burn to score.
And City were three up before Potter could work out how to respond. Jesus danced past a couple of tackles and laid the ball off to Grealish. His shot was parried by Sanchez, but it bounced out to Jesus, who, despite the keeper’s despairing flap, clinically finished it off, via a deflection from Foden.
Brighton, though, are now too good a side to go down without a scrap, and throughout the second half they played with real grit. Lallana kept battling, Pascal Gross drew a good save from Ederson, Trossard an even better one. Potter sent on Tariq Lamptey and Enock Mwepu to go at the visitors. Almost as soon as Lamptey arrived, he was upended by Cancelo.
And how Brighton tried. With perhaps the most progressive pair of full-backs in the Premier League now in harness, they constantly pushed down the flanks, their refusal to cow to City’s genius a mark of their calibre. However much Potter’s side pressed and fizzed, however much Lamptey danced and Cucurella overlapped, City appeared too shrewd to throw away their dominance. They slowed the game down, fell heavily under routine challenges, and passed sideways. You knew they were really under the cosh when Guardiola sent on Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne.
But then Mwepu was tripped in the box by Ederson and a penalty was awarded after a lengthy Var investigation. The substitute Alexis Mac Allister scored it and the Amex was on its feet, electrified by the hint of a glorious turnaround.
It wasn’t to be. City are just too shrewd. Substitute Riyad Mahrez’s last-minute goal was a mark of their excellence. But given the form displayed by Brighton, it is unlikely many other visitors here will be as successful.
© Telegraph Media Group Limited (2021)
Telegraph Media Group Limited