Manchester City were under the pump for 20 second-half minutes and everybody here knew it. Plenty of nervousness. Brighton appeared ready to snatch something.
A stunner, curling far away into Robert Sanchez’s top right-hand corner from just over 20 yards. In all the way, De Bruyne heading off in celebration by covering one eye to show off a sizeable shiner after taking a ball to the face in training during the week.
Murmuring became relief, City bouncing back from last week’s defeat at Anfield, although Guardiola will not be overly satisfied with what he saw before a Champions League trip to Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday. They need a point to secure top spot in that group and you fancy Dortmund’s attackers would have made them pay in a way Brighton simply could not.
Even the usually imperious Rodri had a tough day. Moises Caicedo, on the other hand, indicated why he is being courted by the biggest clubs.
— The Premier League Club (@TPLCSports) October 22, 2022
City have perhaps not always been at their consistent fluent best this season, helped significantly by the machine they purchased up front, and – despite the scoreline – this was more evidence.
The suggestions of this proving troublesome were there early. Brighton made this into cat and mouse contest, patiently refusing to engage with City’s back four. The hosts could not pass through the stubborn lines and were not pleased about it.
With Danny Welbeck briefly stricken, Guardiola held a meeting after just eight minutes, with Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, Ederson and Erling Haaland in attendance. He appeared to be imploring them to go longer, forgoing bodies in midfield, and that eventually brought the opening goal.
Ederson spotted a space to hit between Sanchez and his back three, knowing that Haaland owns the legs to reach anything. Sure enough he did, racing clear to beat Sanchez outside the box and then shoulder barging Joel Veltman to the floor, tapping into an unguarded goal after 22 minutes.
The Norwegian should have earned a penalty two minutes earlier when Sanchez kicked his ankle, but VAR did not overturn Craig Pawson’s decision to award nothing. That was a different matter entirely later in the half, when Pawson was forced to stop proceedings to take a second look at Lewis Dunk’s challenge on Bernardo Silva.
The incident had happened at least 60 seconds before Pawson trotted over to the monitor. Dunk hung out his leg, Silva went over it after a gentle push by Pascal Gross. Haaland gave Sanchez no chance to really set himself and the goalkeeper almost cowered as it flew beyond him. Seventeen and counting for Haaland, the 600th City have scored in the league under Guardiola.
City had begged for two other penalties, but Brighton felt aggrieved they went in two down and hit back sharply after the break. Leandro Trossard scored it, fizzing into Ederson’s near post from 20 yards. The goal did not paint either Rodri or Manuel Akanji in a particularly positive light, neither closing down their men with any real gusto.
And suddenly the Etihad Stadium started to hum with disapproval, a nervous energy. Riyad Mahrez had squandered a very presentable chance before Trossard struck, the Algerian promptly hauled off during a season that has barely started for him. Trossard nodded wide when substitute Tariq Lamptey’s cross was not attacked by Akanji. Lamptey himself would later sneak in behind, then failing to find another purchase on the eventual header.
After embarrassing Akanji in the Brighton half, Trossard stormed off effectively untracked straight into City’s box, Ederson bailing out his defence with a smart save.
But there came restbite when Silva squared for De Bruyne in the 75th minute. He sized Sanchez up and decided to ping it into the corner without more than a second’s thought. Not bad for someone squinting out of one eye.