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De Bruyne drags edgy Man City back to the top of the Premier League with Brighton win

22:16 BST 20/04/2022
Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City Brighton Premier League 2021-22
Pep Guardiola's side regained their one-point advantage over Liverpool with a 3-0 victory over Brighton after a tense, goalless first half

Manchester City 3-0 Brighton: Match Statistics

It was undoubtedly big, even if wasn't quite clever.

When Riyad Mahrez bundled in a deflected opener against Brighton, the overwhelming feeling at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night was one of relief.

Tension had enveloped the ground, with the knowledge that hosts Manchester City cannot afford the slightest misstep in their battle with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table.

Momentum is crucial in title races and it feels like it's been going in only one direction in recent weeks, with Pep Guardiola's side clearly feeling the physical strain of a Champions League quarter-final tie with Atletico Madrid, and two meetings with Liverpool.

Three games without a win in all competitions made it feel like City had surrendered the initiative in the title race to Jurgen Klopp's quadruple-chasers.

Of course, the reality is that during that time they haven't fallen any further behind Liverpool, having drawn their league meeting at the Etihad, but they did start Wednesday's game against Brighton in second place, with the Merseysiders having routed Manchester United the evening before.

It was perhaps understandable, then, that there was an unmistakable air of tension during the opening half of the game with Graham Potter's in-form side.

City's players have been here before, of course. They are adept at holding their nerve in high-pressure situations. But there was evidence of edginess.

For example, leading goalscorer Mahrez inexplicably refused to shoot when Robert Sanchez's clearance flew straight to him, even though the Brighton goalkeeper was stranded yards from his goal.

There were also three misplaced passes in five minutes from Joao Cancelo, who has been outstanding all season, while Ilkay Gundogan miscontrolled the ball as he broke through for a half-chance.

A goalless draw would have inevitably drawn attention to City's lack of a natural goalscorer, particularly given the obvious contrast with the raft of forwards at Anfield.

But Pep Guardiola has his own match-winners in Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, and once again it was left to that particularly dynamic duo to change the game.

De Bruyne, who missed the FA Cup semi-final loss to Liverpool at the weekend, was the driving force, dragging his side forward until he finally conjured up an opening.

It was his breathless run that led to the 53rd minute goal, even if it needed a few touches of luck to find its way to the back of the net.

The Belgian's attempted pass to Mahrez took two fortunate ricochets before finding its way to the Algerian, whose shot looped past Sanchez via Joel Veltman's outstretched leg.

De Bruyne's assist for City's third goal was more the classy touch with which he's associated – an instinctive flick into the path of Bernardo Silva that the Portuguese forward whipped home.

In between, Foden smashed in a deflected second from the edge of the box that completely settled everyone's nerves.

De Bruyne was given a late rest, with Guardiola enthusiastically hugging his main man after yet another decisive display.

City's single-point advantage is back, but so are the nerves that come with a title tussle with Liverpool that looks unlikely to be settled until the final day of the season.