Gabriel Jesus sinks Sheffield United to keep Manchester City sitting pretty

    Pep Guardiola’s relentless winning machine rolls on via Manchester City’s 12th successive victory in all competitions.

As the game approached its conclusion, Oleksandr Zinchenko warmed Aaron Ramsdale’s fingers with a 20-yard effort and Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gündogan and Ferran Torres continued to press tirelessly, though John Fleck unloaded a long-range effort that went close to grabbing a share of the points. In the end, Gabriel Jesus’s first-half strike proved the winner and thus Guardiola and team will travel to Burnley on Wednesday as the leaders.

“I woke up this morning, went out of my building and I saw the freezing cold and wind and I said: ‘Today will be the toughest game we are going to play this season,’” the Catalan said after his 500th managerial victory. “When you see that Sheffield United are bottom you realise [why] the Premier League is the toughest league in the world.

“We struggle every season against them – the organisation of Chris [Wilder’s] team is outstanding. We played really well, we didn’t create much but we conceded few [chances] again. I am grateful to my players.”

Guardiola’s standing down of John Stones and Raheem Sterling raised eyebrows against visitors boosted by Wednesday’s victory at Manchester United, though Torres and Aymeric Laporte were hardly the weakest of replacements.

As expected this was a contest of City’s attack against United’s rearguard. After only nine minutes came Jesus’s finish, derived in part from slipshod defending: Torres wriggled free of Jayden Bogle on the right and fed the No 9, whose dummy was followed by a finish to break his three-month drought in the competition.

Wilder – correctly – bemoaned the manner of the winner: “We’ve not been cut open by an unbelievable piece of brilliance.”

United responded with a counter that ended in Gündogan scrambling a George Baldock pass out for a corner. It amounted to nothing but it was a move at pace that turned City around and gave Wilder’s men hope.

It was notable how Kyle Walker would act as an extra man in midfield when the ball was down City’s left, as he did when receiving possession and spraying wide to Torres. This is part of how City tire opponents: by posing a constant shape-shifting puzzle that can be impossible to solve.

They also possess stunning vision, such as when Silva’s fiercely struck ball from the right found Jesus, whose header back towards danger was hooked away by Chris Basham. The visitors will have rued allowing Jesus’s opener because thereafter they stymied City. There were also flashes of quality moving forward, the probing of Oliver Norwood and Fleck keeping those in sky-blue shirts on their toes. Rúben Dias had to prove his concentration when Oliver Burke raced on to a rebound, the centre-back scooping the ball away to stop Ederson being called into action.

The second half opened with Fleck ceding the ball to Silva, who skated at United’s defence to claim a corner, though it came to nothing. Next Zinchenko’s cross from the left to the far post might have led to City’s second if Torres had produced a better header. Ramsdale’s interception then thwarted a lurking Jesus after a ball in from Torres, while at the other end Bogle blasted over from an enticing position.

If VAR is for anything, it is surely for the type of incident that, moments later, involved Bogle appearing to push Torres down in front of Ramsdale. David Coote might have been directed to study the pitch-side monitor for a possible penalty. But the referee was not, and gave a goal-kick instead.

It did not affect the result and Jesus nearly claimed a second in added time. City remain the side to beat, while United are rooted to the bottom, 10 points from the last safe spot.

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