Raheem Sterling. Leroy Sane. Riyad Mahrez. Kyle Walker. Nicolas Otamendi. Four primary reasons Manchester City romped to record-breaking Premier League title. A club-record signing alongside them. None necessary.
All were on the bench Sunday. Kevin De Bruyne was in the stands, chatting with Fabian Delph. And all were surely gawking like the rest of us as Manchester City did something to Huddersfield Town that the word “dominate” doesn’t even begin to describe.
To call it brilliant football or beautiful soccer doesn’t do it justice either. City, without five or six of the first-choice starters from the title winners, absolutely annihilated Huddersfield on Sunday. The final count was 6-1. Anything less would have been the sporting equivalent of a charitable donation to the poor.
The Citizens toyed with the Terriers for almost 25 minutes, contemplating how to score a goal befitting of their superiority. They decided to let Ederson and Sergio Aguero – goalkeeper and striker – do the honors:
Ten minutes later, City was 3-0 up and cruising. Aguero would pounce on a Huddersfield error for the third. In between, his strike partner, Gabriel Jesus, grabbed the second.
But to call it easy would be an affront to City’s mastery, which is anything but simple. It is unparalleled in England; perhaps historically, too; and perhaps even globally.
It is so irresistibly comprehensive, a quality expressed in Sunday’s first half. City spent a half of a half hypnotizing Huddersfield with its clockwork passing and movement. It coaxed the visitors out of their fissuring defensive shell, allowing Ederson to smash it open, a goalkeeper outdoing 10 outfield players with one 80-yard laser.
Six minutes later, Benjamin Mendy and Jesus weaved their way through:
In the second half, David Silva spun a free kick into the top corner. The Spaniard was as delightful as ever on his return, first carrying his prematurely-born son onto the pitch pregame, then dazzling with the ball at his feet for 63 minutes.
With 15 minutes remaining and his number prepared on the fourth official’s board, Aguero flicked home a Mendy cross for his hat trick. With six minutes left and Huddersfield yearning for the comforts of its team bus, Leroy Sane exploded down the left to create the sixth.
City got off 32 shots. Huddersfield put as many on the Citizens’ goal as it did on its own. The hosts’ 77 percent possession felt like much more.
City seemingly had its pick of goalscoring methods. It opted against some – Jesus flubbing an attempt from close range, later dragging a shot wide when in on goal. It opted against saddling Huddersfield with too much embarrassment. But the eventual output was frightening nonetheless.
The most frightening part of Man City’s thrashing
Pep Guardiola made three changes from a thorough 2-0 victory over Arsenal seven days earlier. He made a formation change. He altered the approach. Last Sunday, it was a shapeshifting 4-3-3/4-4-2/3-3-3-1. This time it was a straight 3-5-2 (or 3-1-4-2).
The rationale for the change was one of two things. Either it was rotation, an understanding that a weakened side could still engineer a demolition; or it was a strategic shift that Guardiola believed left his team better equipped to break down the bunkered Terriers.
In other words, either City’s B-plus unit looks like the best in the league, or Guardiola has the tactical flexibility to maximize his personnel based on opponent.
In other words, either way, City’s smashing of Huddersfield was ominous for those expecting a true Premier League title race.
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