English Premiership

Mahrez fires Man City into top spot

2019-03-02 19:36
 Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez (AP)

London -Pep Guardiola hailed his "incredible" Manchester City players after the Premier League champions dug deep to beat Bournemouth 1-0 on Saturday and return to the top of the table.

Riyad Mahrez's 55th-minute goal eventually settled matters at the Vitality Stadium, moving City two points ahead of title rivals Liverpool ahead of the Reds' Merseyside derby meeting with Everton on Sunday.

City were made to work for the win against a Bournemouth side who defended in numbers and failed to register a single attempt on goal.

But City manager Guardiola was impressed with the way his players stuck to their task, insisting their performance underlined they have no intention of giving up their title easily.

"We made one of the best performances we have played, they (Bournemouth) were very organised," said Guardiola. "But they didn't have one shot, we defended well from throw-ins and free-kicks."

The Spaniard added: "We created a few chances, people should understand how difficult it is to attack 11 players (who are defending). Thanks to the players, they are absolutely incredible.

"We demand a lot of the players without giving them the time to rest physiologically, that is why it is incredible. No matter what happens this season, they deserve my admiration."

Liverpool could overhaul Guardiola's side with victory at Goodison Park and the City manager admitted he cannot predict how the final weeks of the season will unfold.

But he was satisfied with the levels of commitment shown by his team who overcame the losses of Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones either side of half-time.

"No one knows what is going to happen at the end of the season but these players deserve my admiration and my respect," Guardiola said.

"After two seasons I have the squad that I want. And when that happens you are proud," the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager added.

Guardiola's satisfaction was reflected in the way he celebrated victory on the pitch with his players in front of the visiting fans.

But until Mahrez - who had replaced De Bruyne immediately before the interval - beat Bournemouth goalkeeper Artur Boruc at his near post, the visitors had created few clear opportunities against a determined Cherries defence.

Mahrez has endured a testing time since moving to the Etihad Stadium in pre-season and Guardiola acknowledged the significance of Saturday's goal for the Algeria winger.

"It was so important for him as it was for the team," said the manager.

"But he knows he has to compete with other players. He has to be ready. He has to be positive and say 'ok my time is going to come'. Because I don't have any doubt about his quality.

"I know his mentality is aggressive but he has to understand where he is. He is at a team that won 100 points and in every single game fight and won. And the people in front are incredible players."

De Bruyne limped off with a hamstring injury while Stones has a problem with his groin.

"John came off as a precaution. He felt it tighten a little and we didn't want to take any risks," explained Guardiola.

"We will find out about Kevin tomorrow (Sunday). But it is to be expected when we have played 25 games in something like 93 days."

Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, was satisfied with the way his side responded to a 5-1 defeat at Arsenal in midweek.

"We answered a lot of questions after Wednesday when we let ourselves down," he said. "My only disappointment is their goal, which was probably the ugliest they'll score all season.

"That cost us the game. Their technical level was so high. We were waiting for them to make a mistake or get frustrated but they didn't do that."

 

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Saturday, 30 March 2019
Fulham v Manchester City, Craven Cottage 14:30
Leicester City v AFC Bournemouth, King Power Stadium 17:00
Manchester United v Watford, Old Trafford 17:00
Crystal Palace v Huddersfield Town, Selhurst Park 17:00
Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton, The American Express Community Stadium 17:00
Burnley v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Turf Moor 17:00
West Ham United v Everton, London Stadium 19:30
Sunday, 31 March 2019
Cardiff City v Chelsea, Cardiff City Stadium 15:05
Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur, Anfield 17:30
Monday, 01 April 2019
Arsenal v Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium 21:00
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