Manchester City moved to within just two points of top spot in the Premier League as the reigning champions beat bottom-placed Sheffield United 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium.
A long-range strike from Rodri and a Julian Alvarez tap-in gave Manchester City a deserved win on Saturday afternoon, as the Blues look to kickstart their traditional winter winning streak ahead of the turn of the year.
Phil Foden assisted both goals for Manchester City and continues to flourish in a central role, as Kevin De Bruyne continues his road towards full match fitness in the final phase of his recovery from hamstring surgery.
It was dominance from the start for City, who took control from the first whistle. Despite a few careless turnovers in the opening minutes from the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Kyle Walker, the hosts grabbed the lead in the 14th minute when Rodri beat the keeper from outside the area. An excellent finish from the Spaniard, who has already scored more goals this year than in the entirety of last season.
There was a clear chance to double the lead in the 21st minute but Bernardo Silva’s shot from a narrow angle was poorly taken. The chance was setup by Phil Foden, who dribbled past a few defenders to find the Portuguese forward running in behind.
Following a few wasted opportunities, Pep Guardiola was seen shouting at his team to stay calm. An understandable warning considering how many times Manchester City have dropped points from winnable games this season.
Just seconds after asking his players to stay calm, Sheffield United had their best chance to score. William Osula shot’s from 12 yards could have equalised but Manuel Akanji stepped in to deflect it out-of-bounds. It was the Blades’ only chance of the first-half, and best opportunity of the game.
Jack Grealish was replaced just five minutes into the second half following a rough challenge, as Oscar Bobb came on to replace him in what hopefully was nothing more than a precautionary move. It was a slow start to the second half, but City started to break through Sheffield’s defence after the first 10 minutes.
Both Foden and Alvarez couldn’t capitalise on their individual clear cut chances to extend the lead to two. However, they were able to link up in the 61st minute to finally double Manchester City’s lead when Foden played an inch-perfect pass across the six-yard box for Julian Alvarez to tap it in at the far post.
It was a well deserved goal that come after five minutes of sustained pressure from Manchester City. The goal was setup by Oscar Bobb – whose pass to Foden split between four defenders. Following the second goal, Kovacic and Walker were replaced by Rico Lewis and Ruben Dias to ensure control and see out the first clean sheet in the league since the Manchester Derby in October.
Here is how we rated the individual performances of the Manchester City side that closed off a historic 2023 calendar year with another victory, and ensured that the Etihad Stadium failed to see a defeat for Pep Guardiola’s side throughout the last 365 days.
Ederson – 7
Wasn’t asked to do much, like most matches, and had perfect distribution.
Josko Gvardiol – 7
For someone so technically gifted, it’s baffling when he makes a few terrible decisions on the ball. He’s still so young that he will be able to improve that with experience, but it’s almost becoming expected at this point. Still expect him to eventually take over the John Stones role.
Nathan Ake – 8
Another great Nathan Ake performance, Sheffield United constantly tried to find space in behind him and Gvardiol, but time and time again the Dutchman calmly took care of the threat.
Manuel Akanji – 7.5
All eyes are on Manuel Akanji these next few weeks until John Stones returns from his third injury this season. But the former Borussia Dortmund defender continues to showcase his ability on the ball and like so many other City players, he had his best performance in months.
Kyle Walker – 6.5
A typical Kyle Walker performance as of late, offered little on the ball and took a few baffling shots from 35 yards out. Wasn’t terrible, wasn’t good.
Rodri – 9
Best performance from Rodri in months, and by some margin. Incredibly well taken goal and dictated the play from the off.
Mateo Kovacic – 6
Lost the ball a handful of times in both halves and had to pick up a card to stop a counter-attack following his error. Was understandably pulled early.
Phil Foden – 9.5 (MOTM)
Yet another Man of the Match performance from Phil Foden. Assisted both goals and was a constant threat both on the ball and when making runs in behind. Excellent performance, which has now become the norm for him this season.
Jack Grealish – 6.5
Pedestrian performance for the first time in a while for the former Aston Villa winger. Neither him or Bernardo Silva were much of a factor due to how compact Sheffield United were for most of the match. Let’s just hope his substitution was nothing more than a precaution with some concern over injury.
Julian Alvarez – 8
Couldn’t have asked for more from Julian Alvarez. Wasn’t able to convert his first chance, but made up for it minutes later. Didn’t have too many other chances to make an impact offensively, but was great on the ball and vital in the press.
Bernardo Silva – 7
Just like Jack Grealish, he wasn’t able to do much throughout the 90 minutes, but Bernardo was a little bit more of a threat. Could’ve done better on the shot in the first half that Foden setup.
Oscar Bobb 7.5
Great cameo performance, sublime pass to Phil Foden to setup the second goal. Smooth on the ball and continues to show that he will be a Manchester City player for years to come.
Rico Lewis – 6.5
Came on for a shaky Mateo Kovacic and helped bring more control onto the pitch. Don’t understand why Pep Guardiola doesn’t trust Rico Lewis to play more in these matches. His close control and passing is already so crisp for a teenager.
Ruben Dias – 6.5
Decent confidence building cameo for the out-of-form defender. He’s been dropped a few times as of late and it’s probably the best for the long run. He’ll be needed in the spring.
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