SHEFFIELD, United Kingdom– Sergio Aguero came off the bench to seal
Manchester City’s 1-0 win against Sheffield United as the Argentine striker
extended his red-hot start to 2020 on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side were
labouring to break down United until Aguero ended their stubborn resistence in
the closing stages at Bramall Lane.
City striker Gabriel Jesus had a
penalty saved by Dean Henderson in the first half but with 17 minutes left
Aguero bagged his seventh goal in four appearances this year.
His 21st goal of the season in all
competitions moved second-placed City to within 13 points of runaway Premier
League leaders Liverpool, who have two games in hand on the champions.
While City’s hopes of winning a
third successive title have been shattered by a combination of their own
failings and Liverpool’s incredible form, there is still much to play for this
Guardiola harbours dreams of
leading City to their first Champions League crown and they also face an FA Cup
date with Fulham this weekend, followed by the League Cup semi-final second leg
against Manchester United.
With those cup ambitions in mind,
Guardiola will have been encouraged by the way City coped with the Blades’
aggressive game-plan and emerged with a fourth win from their last five league
Keeping just their third clean
sheet in 14 league games was another boost for Guardiola, who gave French
defender Aymeric Laporte his first appearance since August after recovering
from a serious knee injury.
Laporte had been back in training
for over a week, but his presence in the starting line-up for the first time in
143 days was a surprise as Guardiola had hinted he was not set to feature just
Guardiola might have been
regretting his gamble when Muhamed Besic crashed into Laporte’s ankle with an
ugly tackle that earned a yellow card.
City’s response to United’s bruising
start came in the form of a blistering counter-attack.
Raheem Sterling found Riyad Mahrez
and ran into the penalty area to meet the Algeria’s return pass with a
first-time strike that drew a fine save from Henderson.
– Crucial contribution –
It took another good stop from
Henderson to deny Nicolas Otamendi from the defender’s spectacular overhead
City’s pressure should have
yielded the opening goal in the 35th minute after Mahrez superbly prised open
Sprinting down the right flank,
Mahrez cut into the area and evaded two defenders with some nimble footwork
before Chris Basham’s trip sent him sprawling.
With Jesus replacing Aguero in
starting line-up, it was the Brazilian who took the penalty, but his effort was
superbly pushed away by Henderson.
City felt Henderson moved off his
line before Jesus made it three misses from his last six penalties, but their
appeals for a retake were ignored.
Chris Wilder’s team were doing
their best to ruffle City and Fernandinho took a clattering from John Fleck
that drew a booking before the Brazilian got a yellow card of his own after
smashing into Oliver McBurnie.
City were not on peak form but
even at less than full power they were still dangerous and Henderson had to
keep out Jesus’s close-range header.
Guardiola sent on Aguero for Jesus
and within six minutes the switch paid off as City finally broke through in the
Kevin De Bruyne wriggled into
space for a perfectly-weighted pass that picked out Aguero’s run to the far
post, where the Argentine had the simple task of slotting home.
De Bruyne’s crucial contribution
made him the first player in Premier League history to provide 15 or more
assists in three different campaigns.