There is a laundry list of adjectives that make Manchester City the best team in England, and arguably the best in the world. On Sunday, the one responsible for City’s three points at Huddersfield was persistence.
The Premier League leaders, despite seeing attack after attack repelled by a resolute Huddersfield Town, forced home a scrappy 84th-minute goal to escape with three points. They extended their winning streak to a remarkable 18 consecutive matches in all competitions. And they once again showed why their dominance is so hard to fend off.
City had tried and tried to pick their way through a staunch rearguard with no success – at least not since Sergio Aguero equalized from the penalty spot early in the second half. Finally, their persistence paid off. Raheem Sterling continued his run into the penalty box and, with some good fortune on his side, won the game for the visitors:
Sterling, in the midst of his best season yet, and still only 22 years old, is one of many Man City weapons. He is neither the team’s top goal-scorer nor top creator. But with Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and others partially bottled up, Sterling was the difference.
The Terriers had leapt into the lead just before halftime without manufacturing a shot on goal. Vincent Kompany skewed his clearance of one corner behind for a second. The second was swung in again by Tom Ince, this time to the near post. Cristopher Schindler glided in to get a flick, and the ball ricocheted off Nicolas Otamendi into the City net.
At halftime, after the goal, you could sense overreactions brewing. The narratives that attempt to inject worry and doubt where there should be none. City was behind, yes. But it was behind via a fluke, not due to any real flaws or shortcomings. Even if it hadn’t recovered later on, this would not have been reason for panic.
That’s not to say the title will undoubtedly be City’s. But the first half wasn’t anything to suggest it wouldn’t be. It was City dominance, and a series of moderately successful attempts to break down a sturdy low block. They didn’t result in a City goal. Eventually, they would.
Huddersfield was good, but sometimes City is too good. The visitors maneuvered through holes in the Huddersfield defense that no other Premier League team could see, much less find and use. They somehow got Aguero in behind the center of that defense on multiple occasions. On one, the Argentine’s left-footed drive stung Jonas Lossl’s palms, and Sterling, momentarily unmarked, placed the follow-up wide of the near post.
Sterling and Aguero were the ones who halted the formation of those overreactions shortly after halftime. Moments after Sterling had had one penalty appeal denied, he darted into the box to run onto a neat one-touch through-ball from Silva. He was pulled back by Huddersfield defender Scott Malone. Aguero dispatched the resulting spot kick, and City was level.
City had 85 percent of the ball over the first 15 minutes of the second half. It was the soccer definition of one-way traffic. But Huddersfield weathered the City storm, and stemmed the flow of City chances.
Pep Guardiola introduced Gabriel Jesus with 10 minutes remaining. He pulled off Vincent Kompany, a clear signal that City wouldn’t be happy with a draw. And it was that substitution that helped City bulldoze through the Huddersfield roadblock.
Jesus’s presence was the difference. He and Aguero were both waiting in the penalty box to pounce, occupying the attention of Huddersfield defenders. The Brazilian latched onto De Bruyne’s deflected through-ball. His shot was saved, but Sterling’s follow left Huddersfield helpless.
With Sterling joining Jesus and Aguero in the box, the Terriers were finally, at long last, overwhelmed. Whether the ball caromed off Sterling’s leg or head or belly is irrelevant. City is still perfect since the end of August. It remains eight points clear at the top of the Premier League. And despite 84 minutes of grueling labor on Sunday, it is showing no signs of slowing down.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.