Manchester City showed steel as they ground out a 1-0 win against Brighton & Hove Albion in their FA Cup semi-final on Saturday. Many expected that City would dominate this game, especially after they took the lead inside five minutes, but Brighton stayed in the game and forced City to show a different side than the free-scoring we have come to expect.
Manchester City Show Necessary Steel Against Brighton & Hove Albion
When Gabriel Jesus’s diving header hit the back of the net it looked like the rout was on. It was the fourth minute and City had looked in complete control to start, but that control only lasted about ten minutes before Brighton were able to find their feet. For the middle part of the first half, the Seagulls had all the shots and all the penetration.
They were sitting in a deep block and hitting City on the counter; hardly a new tactic, but when executed correctly, City still struggle with a side that holds up to them as Brighton did. They refused to let Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva get in behind their full-backs. Of all the strategies to stop City, keeping them in front of your backline is the most important factor.
When they get in behind and start cutting balls back to Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva, you’re already cooked, but Chris Hughton’s showed great steel keeping those players in front of them. It allowed them to keep the lead at one and head into half-time with a chance to win, but the goal wasn’t the only important incident of the first half.
The Kyle Walker Incident
In the 32nd minute, Kyle Walker was shepherding a ball out of play with Alireza Jahanbakhsh right on his tail. Walker, as happens in these situations, was pushed over by Jahanbakhsh, and then stepped on by the Iranian. Walker got up fuming and they went head-to-head, resulting in Walker pushing forward but sliding down Jahanbakhsh’s face.
It looked like the motion of a headbutt, so some have said Walker should have been sent off. This seems ludicrous because both parties were the aggressors in this arena. Jahanbakhsh pushed Walker over and stepped on his hamstring. Plus, after Walker’s attempt of force, Jahanbakhsh would’ve come right back if not for Ederson intervening. In the end, Anthony Taylor gave them both yellow cards and the game went on as it should.
When the teams came out for the second half, everyone expected City to dominate. Instead, for the first fifteen minutes of the second half, Brighton were the better side. Chris Hughton deserves a lot of credit for how resolute Brighton were defensively. Their defence showed great steel not allowing City out of first or second gear.
As City were held in first gear, they had plenty of defending to do. It was a great test for their upcoming matches; Brighton got at them and attacked quickly through various outlets. There was a lot of good work done by Anthony Knockaert and Jahanbakhsh on each wing, but their good work was held at bay by the great steel Manchester City showed.
Nicolas Otamendi and Aymeric Laporte were simply outstanding in this game. In the face of Kyle Walker’s near disaster and Benjamin Mendy’s first start since November, they did everything. Laporte, in particular, was so strong, holding up for the first 60 minutes against Glenn Murray, and still had plenty of composure for Brighton’s extra attackers down the stretch.
It was the type of steel Pep Guardiola will love to see before a crucial midweek tie. He will know that Tottenham will be able to possess the ball and cause City problems. So the extra practice of holding up at Wembley in a FA Cup semi-final can only help. So with another trip to Wembley in the bag, it’s time to turn attention to that big-time Champions League clash in London.
Manchester City are going to need plenty more steel against Tottenham on Tuesday. This will be the first big game at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and it will be as loud as any game City have played this season. There are going to periods of that game where Tottenham control possession and play on the front foot.
In those moments the steel of players like Otamendi, Laporte and Fernandinho will be extra crucial. Fernandinho played a solid 15 minutes in his return from injury on Saturday. His deputy, Ilkay Gundogan, has been superb in the second half of the season. His play has caused the Fernandinho questions to disappear at the most crucial time. It would be shocking if both weren’t anchoring the midfield from the start on Tuesday.
City are going to have to be much better in possession of the ball. They will not get away with a 1-0 win playing as they did against Brighton, Tottenham just have so much more talent. The natural control of having both Fernandinho and Gundogan in midfield will be too much for Guardiola to avoid. It will mean one of David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne will be dropped to the bench, but it will be a necessary adjustment.
The other necessary adjustment will be the return of Sergio Aguero to the starting line-up. Guardiola has been saving him the last two games with Tottenham in mind, and Aguero will be ready. The Argentine has been scoring in bunches lately and still has plenty of painful memories from his lack of participation in last seasons Quarter Final exit. He does not plan to have that happen again.
It’s easy to expect a tight end-to-end affair from this Champions League quarter-final. Both teams have enough skill to take control of the tempo and possession. Manchester City will want to control the possession, but at home, Tottenham will make them suffer. City will have to both show the steel they showed on Saturday, but also play much better with the ball. Anything close to a performance like this one in possession and they won’t get by the Tottenham defence.