4:25 P.M. (EASTERN TIME).
MANCHESTER, England — When Manchester City take on Manchester United on Sunday night against Liverpool, Manchester City will take on Crystal Palace at their leisure.
The debate at Anfield will focus on how the result – whatever it is – has shaped the title race between the two most successful clubs in English football. But barely an hour later, the city will be in the spotlight as Etihad continues its steady march to the table.
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On a rainy Wednesday night in Manchester, Phil Foden scored his eighth goal of the season to give City a 1-0 win over Brighton. With seven consecutive wins in all competitions – unbeaten in 14 games – and facing a weekend that will be dominated by the first title clash between United and Liverpool since 2008/09, Pep Guardiola is in the top flight.
After a difficult start to the season, City are now just four points behind the divisional leaders United with one less game. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad start after all. The relentless consistency that underpinned the 2018 and 2019 victories is slowly returning.
For the first time this season, City won four straight championship games. They failed to achieve this feat last season, before Liverpool were officially crowned champions, and this is a much more topical course. Only one of their next five league games (Aston Villa at Etihad on January 20) is against a team from the first half of the table. Of the remaining four games, three (West Brom, Sheffield United and Burnley) will be played against teams currently in the bottom five. The big clubs have learned this season that nothing can be taken for granted, but if ever there was a chance to win a title, it’s now.
My first thought was the Palace, not the table, Guardiola said later. We knew it would be difficult. Brighton had a good mentality to play with.
We had a very good first half and we had chances. After we missed a real chance in the second half, they were better.
We need to win games like this. It’s a good lesson for us. Every game will be like that.
Error! The file name is not specified. Phil Foden has become a star of Manchester City, who are back in the running for the title. Getty Images
City’s form is all the more impressive because it was achieved in the midst of a COWID-19 epidemic at a club that has temporarily closed its training ground and without a dedicated striker. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus have scored just two league goals this season, but in their absence Foden in particular has started to produce the numbers his talent has always attributed to him.
I have spoken about Phil many times – look at his age, the number of goals he has scored, the number of games he has played and the number of miles he runs for the team, Guardiola said.
He has a special instinct for goal with his left and right foot. He deserves to play. He lives his life 24 hours a day playing football.
There are many distractions in our lives, but you see his behavior and he is happy when he trains and plays. You can see it in his performance.
The 20-year-old, who was given a more prominent role after the departure of David Silva, scored the most goals of his career (eight) before mid-season. His 44th minute goal allowed him to dive at Adam Webster with a brilliant save before using his weaker right foot on the edge of the area to place the ball against the post.
We needed Robert Sanchez to do well and he made five saves, also in the second half against Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne, and he did it. The result would have been even more comfortable had Bernardo Silva not hit the post and substitute Raheem Sterling not seen a free kick go over the bar. Instead, Foden’s fourth goal in the last six games was enough to replace Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy in the stands at the final whistle.
Walker almost lost his voice towards the end shouting at the town’s defence to block and clear as Brighton progressed, but he had nothing to worry about. Ruben Diaz has made Guardiola’s back line stronger than last season, forming a partnership with John Stones that is very hard to break.
Since the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham in November, City have conceded just three goals in 14 games and have the best defence in the league with 13 goals conceded in 16 games. Five of them were against Leicester in September – three days before Diaz arrived from Benfica.
It’s a fresh start, Mr. Guardiola said. We are firmly in the box. The numbers are good, except at the start for Leicester. It means a lot to us.