Sterling's late goal ensured an 11th successive league win for Guardiola's side and maintained an eight point lead at the top of the table.
Manchester City display fight to match flair after grinding out win over Huddersfield Town
Where Manchester United floundered, Manchester City eventually flourished. Jose Mourinho’s team had lost in Huddersfield Town. Pep Guardiola’s team left it late but eventually won. It was not their most emphatic display of the season but it may have ranked among the most important.
There is a statistical significance, with an eight-point lead retained and a club record of 11 successive league victories equalled. But it was more about the manner of the victory on a day when City had to display determination and patience in equal quantities against obdurate opponents who can count themselves as unfortunate not to take a point.
Man for man, Huddersfield and City may be the least and most talented teams in the division respectively. David Wagner’s side barely saw the ball for long periods but almost bridged the gulf with effort and organisation.
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Until Guardiola’s risk was rewarded. He removed defender Vincent Kompany for forward Gabriel Jesus, leaving goalkeeper Ederson the only player within 70 yards of the City goal at times. The replacement played a part, with a darting run, in the decisive goal.
The ball bounced in off Raheem Sterling after Jonas Lossl parried Sergio Aguero’s shot. Besides making it the most productive season of Sterling’s career, with 12 goals, he added to his happy habit of scoring important late goals. Guardiola has admitted he is surprised that Sterling is his top scorer, but the 22-year-old Englishman is realising his potential. He is developing into a player of real stature.
City already knew they had others, Aguero included. They needed to demonstrate their character to come from behind.
Thomas Ince has had the most shots in the Premier League this season without scoring. The Huddersfield winger has other ways of being productive, however, and he delivered a corner. Christopher Schindler won a flick-on and the ball was diverted past Ederson by the unwitting Nicolas Otamendi. It was the first time City trailed in a league game since August.
Besides the half-time interval, they were only behind for a couple of minutes. They had two penalty appeals in swift succession, both involving Sterling. The second time, when Scott Malone tugged the winger back, referee Craig Dawson pointed to the spot. Aguero coolly defeated Lossl.
But it was testament to Huddersfield that they resisted with such resolve. They barely had the ball for large swathes of the game. But while Wagner, like his close friend Jurgen Klopp, is indelibly associated with gegenpressing, he is actually more flexible. His teams defend deep against the top sides, limiting space both behind the defence and between the lines.
They welcomed back Schindler, who was suspended for the 4-0 thrashing at Bournemouth, and the giant German made a huge difference. He punched the air in delight when he made a potentially goal-saving challenge on Aguero. His teammates participated in series of high fives, recognising its importance.
And clear-cut chances were a premium. Sterling had shot wastefully wide when he reached the rebound after Lossl parried an effort from Aguero, set up by David Silva’s glorious reverse pass. Some of the Spaniard’s distribution was exquisite and he offered the most incision.
Aguero correctly had an early goal chalked off for offside while Lossl denied the Argentine a second, a couple of minutes after he equaliser. Leroy Sane, who had threatened more with his pace, clipped the crossbar with a free kick.
After Sterling struck, City’s past almost cost them. They sold Aaron Mooy to Huddersfield in the summer and the Australian midfielder’s free kick hit the side netting. Instead, they had Rajiv van la Parra sent off after the final whistle as City extended their 100 per cent away record.