Report from Dan Davis (@dan_davis20) at Vitality Stadium
Riyad Mahrez’s second half effort fired Manchester City to victory against a determined Bournemouth outfit.
The hosts delivered an outstanding defensive performance, frustrating the reigning champions on multiple occasions, but failed to muster a single shot on target in defeat.
City returned to the Premier League summit, whilst the Cherries’ run of consecutive unbeaten home games ended at six.
Cherries boss Eddie Howe opted for three changes to the side that had fallen to a 5-1 demolition at Arsenal in mid-week.
Welshman David Brooks lined up from the off, despite Howe expressing doubts over the 21-year-old’s match sharpness just the day before. Charlie Daniels returned at left-back, whilst Nathan Ake, youngster Jack Simpson and January signing Chris Mepham lined up in the centre of a back five.
The visitors boasted four alterations, as Kyle Walker, John Stones, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling all returned to the starting XI.
City comfortably dictated the early stages of the clash, but were often found wanting for an incisive final pass.
But the visitors’ firm grip on proceedings almost paid dividends after only five minutes, when Sergio Aguero was slipped through on goal on the edge of the penalty area. The Argentine’s effort was rapidly charged down, however, before the resultant corner was nodded narrowly off target by Nicolas Otamendi.
Aguero was once again presented with another opening on ten minutes, but a driven strike was tipped wide of the left-hand post by Artur Boruc. A raised offside flag meant that the effort would have been chalked off had Aguero netted, however.
Belgian star Kevin de Bruyne was integral in City’s next chance. The midfielder’s delivery from a corner saw both Nathan Ake and Ilkay Gundogan challenge on the penalty spot, before the ball fell kindly into Boruc’s grasp after the Dutchman’s timely intervention.
The Belgian’s next cross tested the Polish stop stopper again, but Boruc’s handling above a congested penalty area was superb.
City’s quick interchanges threatened to pull apart the Cherries’ backline on several occasions, although the visitors failed to carve out their first golden opportunity until the 18th minute.
De Bruyne surged to the edge of the penalty area and cut the ball back across the face of goal for the waiting David Silva, who could only direct a first-time shot wide of the target.
Forays forward for the hosts were rare, but the returning Brooks proved instrumental in spearheading counter-attacks. The Welshman raced into City’s half and appeared to be hauled to the turf, only for referee Kevin Friend to wave away the subsequent protests.
Otamendi then acrobatically hooked a volley onto the roof of the net on the half-hour mark, following de Bruyne’s teasing delivery from a corner.
Aguero and Sterling were next to chance their arm, but both could only fire off target as half-time approached.
There was still time for Stones to nod into the clutches of Boruc, before de Bruyne was withdrawn through injury and replaced by Mahrez.
The Algerian was immediately involved in the action, whipping a corner kick into a crowded penalty area. The ball flashed menacingly across the face of goal, with Stones narrowly unable to prod home before Boruc’s heroics on the goal line prevented the visitors from taking the lead.
Soon after the restart City were forced into their second substitution, with Vincent Kompany introduced in place of Stones.
But on 54 minutes, the reigning champions swept in front. David Silva and Oleksandr Zinchenko combined cleverly 20 yards from goal, before a toe poke forward fell into the path of the former. The Spaniard then picked out Mahrez on the right-hand side of the penalty area, and the substitute duly dispatched a strike inside Boruc’s near post.
With de Bruyne’s forced withdrawal, Sterling took up the mantle of City’s main creative hub. The tricky wideman soon curled an effort into Boruc’s clutches, before an incisive pass saw Sterling’s strike whistle into the side netting with the aid of a wicked deflection.
Aguero was then teed up by Sterling, but the Argentine’s toe poked shot arrowed straight into Boruc’s midriff.
Cherries boss Howe then made his first change of the game, opting for a two-man strike partnership as Lys Mousset replaced Brooks.
But on 76 minutes, the visitors should have wrapped up the three points. Simpson’s attempted header back towards goal was underweighted, allowing Sterling to collect the ball and race towards the Cherries’ penalty area. As the winger looked to fire home, Boruc raced off his line and palmed as far as Mahrez, who skewed a strike horribly off target.
City then came agonisingly close to doubling their lead just five minutes later. Aguero’s attempted effort from 25 yards caught horribly in the south coast wind, before cracking against the crossbar with the aid of Boruc’s fingertips.
The Pole was again on hand to deny the visitors their second just moments later, as Otamendi’s powerful header was palmed away acrobatically off the line before Walker’s vicious follow-up whistled comfortably wide of goal.
Aguero almost had the last laugh as full-time ticked ever closer, but the striker could only drag an effort off target after silkily gliding inside the penalty area.
Bournemouth: Boruc, Clyne (Rico 82), Mepham, Ake, Simpson (Ibe 82), Daniels, Smith, Brooks (Mousset 74), Surman, Fraser, King
Unused substitutes: Begovic, Gosling, Taylor, Surridge