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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Raheem Sterling continues to bully Bournemouth as far-from-fluent Manchester City collect win at home

English forward extends remarkable run against unfortunate Cherries to become only player in Premier League history to score in his first six games against one club

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus celebrates after Raheem Sterling scores their second goal and Bournemouth's Asmir Begovic looks on. Reuters
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus celebrates after Raheem Sterling scores their second goal and Bournemouth's Asmir Begovic looks on. Reuters

There are few remaining certainties in life, but if Manchester City victories at the Etihad Stadium are one, Raheem Sterling’s goals against Bournemouth represent another.

As City maintained English football’s lone 100 per cent home league record, Sterling extended his remarkable run against the unfortunate Cherries to become the only player in Premier League history to score in his first six games against one club.

Until their regular nemesis intervened, Bournemouth proved obdurate opponents for a City side stripped of key players in defence, midfield and attack. Pep Guardiola’s depleted team were not at their most fluent or exhilarating. They still prevailed, which illustrates the difference goalscorers can make.

Sterling has been transformed into one. Once deemed profligate, he is now prolific and he joined Sergio Aguero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the top of the division’s scoring charts. But, if Sterling’s predatory streak has been seen more often in the last 16 months, it was always apparent against Bournemouth.

Yet Guardiola’s capacity to make other players more potent was also apparent. In a season when Kevin de Bruyne is yet to start a league game, it is notable that City have still got 17 goals from their three other attacking central midfielders.

While David Silva was rested until the closing stages, the two that started, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan both found the net. Each was a close-range finish, but that is part of the point: they are getting into scoring positions more often.

There are other common denominators in home wins.

City have become specialists in swift starts. This was a sixth consecutive home game when they have scored in the first 20 minutes. There is only one this season, against Lyon, when they did not find the net in the opening half hour.

Opponents may arrive with packed defences, and Bournemouth reinforced their rearguard by dropping the in-form attacker David Brooks for the stopper Tyrone Mings, but they were soon breached. Oleksandr Zinchenko, preferred to Fabian Delph at left-back, chipped a ball over the Bournemouth back five.

Leroy Sane, who had already posed problems with his pace and movement, drew a save from the advancing Asmir Begovic, but the ball fell for Bernardo Silva to slot in.

“I thought the goals were scrappy from our perspective and avoidable,” Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said, but Sane also fashioned the third for Gundogan.

The winger was electric. Out of the team earlier in the season, he looks essential now.

“If he is going to complain in the future why he doesn’t play, I will send this video because if he plays this way, he is going to play,” Guardiola insisted. “He was incredible. Maybe in the future, he will be more consistent like Fernandinho, David and Bernardo Silva, every game eight or nine [out of 10].”

Sane can be more mercurial, but this was one of his stellar showings.

His incision proved crucial as “muscular disturbance” meant Aguero was out, and a doubt for Tuesday’s trip to Watford.

The Argentine has been City’s Etihad executioner, with seven of his eight league goals coming at home. His understudy Gabriel Jesus drew a save from the busy Begovic and set up Fernandinho when his fellow Brazilian shot wide, but without reaching his optimum level.

Instead the striker to score was Callum Wilson who, in the process, became the first player to find the net in open play against City in the league for three months and the first forward to do so all season, excluding penalties.

It was a leveller Bournemouth merited after Josh King, in particular, had showed menace. Right-back Simon Francis crossed and Wilson leaping highest to head in. “We believed at half time,” Howe added.

“The last 20 minutes [of the first half] we were flat, not the rhythm we needed,” Guardiola said.

His was a self-deprecating version of events.

“At half time, my speech was ridiculous,” he claimed. “It didn’t work because the first five or 10 minutes was like the first half.”

Then Sterling intervened. “In the first half Raheem was not there and then he make a slalom and changed the game,” Guardiola said.

First he hit the post, albeit courtesy of a sizeable deflection off Andrew Surman, after wriggling through on a solo run. Three minutes later, he converted the rebound after Begovic had saved from Danilo. With a driving run, Sterling had given the move impetus.

Once again, he gave City momentum. Bournemouth, who have lost their last four games and have never taken a top-flight point off City, were left with a different kind of familiar feeling.