Sterling and Aguero brush Brighton aside to maintain Manchester City's unbeaten start to the season
Goals from Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero midway through each half were enough to take three points against a hard-working Brighton side.
The defending Premier League champions are a formidable foe in any game, having scored eight in the previous two league games, and here they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and chances in what turned out to be a routine victory.
Chris Hughton made two changes from the defeat against Tottenham with Beram Kayal starting in place of the injured Dale Stephens while Glenn Murray was rested to give Jurgen Locadia only his fourth start. Pep Guardiola resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes ahead of the Champions League trip to Hoffenheim on Tuesday.
In the build up to the fixture Hughton had said his side needed to match the levels of the games against Manchester United and Liverpool and will certainly have been happy with how Brighton started the game against a team with 19 goals in six games.
The opening spell saw the Albion’s compact shape restrict City, who were constantly probing for gaps, to few chances. A powerful drive from Leroy Sane straight at the chest of Maty Ryan and a couple of acrobatic efforts from Sergio Aguero the extent of the danger.
The away side also looked to get the ball forward, with Shane Duffy getting his head on a couple of corners - one of which turned out to be his side’s only shot on target - and Anthony Knockaert looking lively. However, it was this attacking endeavour that would give the home side the lead.
After 29 minutes an interception in the City half gave Guardiola’s men the chance they needed. Bernardo Silva rolled the ball into Aguero inside the centre circle with his back to goal. The Argentine spun and fed the ball into the path of Sane, whose pace set him away into the box with the defence backpedalling. He drove the ball across the box and, as he has done so frequently, Sterling arrived at the backpost at speed for a tap-in.
This gave City the impetus to push on and look for a second to put the Albion in real peril before the half was over but, while looking less assured than they had done, Brighton remained resolute and saw out the half. Not long after the goal Ryan got a hand to a powerful close range strike from Sterling to prevent the England winger from doubling his tally. Clearances and attempts to break were just coming straight back at the away side, plus a powerful long range effort from Fernandinho was parried away, and they were perhaps relieved to go in to half time only a goal down.
After the break the pattern of play resumed, with City pulling Brighton from side to side trying to find a decisive second goal. Brighton relied on the last ditch blocks of Lewis Dunk twice in quick succession, first to prevent another Sterling tap-in and then immediately afterwards from Aguero, before David Silva’s effort was tipped over.
It took a moment of magic to kill the game and it was Sergio Aguero that provided it. Receiving the ball just inside the Albion half, the City stalwart spun and drove forward, dancing past the challenge of two Brighton players. When he reached the edge of the box he slipped the ball wide to the onrushing Sterling who fired it back across to the penalty spot for Aguero to sweep home for his 148th Premier League goal.
That two goal cushion seemed to take the sting out of the game somewhat as an acceptable scoreline for both teams, allowing both managers a chance to freshen up their teams. Murray and Jahanbakhsh came on before Chris Hughton was able to introduce Jose Izquierdo for his first appearance of the season since his injury in the summer. The Colombian’s return will be a welcome one for Brighton fans ahead of the visit of West Ham against whom he had such success last season.
With the game fizzling out and ending 2-0 without either side really threatening to change the status quo in the latter stages, it’s the aforementioned West Ham fixture that Hughton now turns his attention to. The Friday night fixture represents a more obvious opportunity to gain valuable points and Hughton will be looking for the same level of effort from his side.