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Avoiding the strains and struggles endured by its title rivals, Manchester City is off to a winning start.
City took 70 minutes to break through Brighton’s resistance and was aided by the English Premier League newcomer’s carelessness to ensure it left the southern seaside resort with a 2-0 victory on Saturday.
But compared to the plight of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool on the opening weekend, this was an assignment smoothly negotiated by Pep Guardiola’s team.
Arsenal raised the curtain on the season by only just overcoming Leicester 4-3 on Friday night before Liverpool conceded a stoppage-time goal to draw at Watford 3-3 on Saturday lunchtime. Then in the most volatile result so far, Chelsea opened its title defense by imploding with a 3-2 loss to Burnley and ending the game with nine men.
“We spoke about that,” Guardiola said after Saturday’s last game, “what happened with Liverpool and what happened at Chelsea.”
No wonder Guardiola was so relieved at the start of his second season in charge.
“The first game is always complicated,” said Guardiola, a title-winner with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. “We saw this weekend what happened in many games. So it is so complicated. From my experience, even in Barcelona, too. The first game, especially with the newly promoted, when they have the passion, the fans, no pressure, it is always difficult, and we did it.”
Brighton, though, was successfully repelling City’s potent strike force until a costly lapse. Brighton midfielder Dale Stephens dithered around the halfway before being dispossessed by Kevin de Bruyne. David Silva then slotted the ball through for Sergio Aguero to apply the finish past goalkeeper Maty Ryan with 20 minutes to go.
The south-coast side fell further behind in the 75th minute when Lewis Dunk, under pressure from Gabriel Jesus, headed Fernandinho’s cross into his own net in Brighton’s first game in the top-flight in 34 years.
“We were stable,” Guardiola said. “We conceded just one opening after one corner and after that, nothing happened. We tried to improve, to attack more fluently, a little bit quicker, a little more precise, a little more accuracy in our passes.”
It helps when you have the luxury of resources to bring a trio of attacking players worth a combined $175 million off the bench, with Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, and Bernardo Silva helping to wear down Brighton.
“It is not easy to attack 10 players there,” Guardiola said.
City, which finished trophyless last season, starts again as title favorite with bookmakers after spending than more than 200 million pounds ($260 million) on strengthening the squad.
Guardiola, though, is cautious. Especially after seeing City reel off 10 successive victories to open the last league campaign only to finish third.
“Last season I was sitting here after the Sunderland game and you said you are the favorites, most beautiful handsome and nice guys in the league,” Guardiola said. “And after, you know what happened last season? Chelsea kill us. OK, we accept what the people say and all we have to try is improve and improve.”
Even Brighton took some encouragement from the game, despite being unable to emulate fellow newcomer Huddersfield and open with a win.
Facing City provided some symmetry for Brighton. It was a loss to City in May 1983 that sent Brighton tumbling out of the old first division. The south coast side plummeted into the fourth tier and came close to dropping out of the professional leagues two decades ago before the ascent to the world’s richest league began.
“There will be bigger scorelines than this in some Man City games because of the quality that they have got,” Brighton manager Chris Hughton said. “One good thing is that there is a very disappointed changing room in there, which shows that it means something to them, and it shows that they know that for 70 minutes, we were very much in the game.”