Guardiola and Haaland moment reflects turning point
Manchester City needed a very late penalty to scrape past Fulham, but the celebrations at full-time were more reflective of a huge derby win or a title-defining three points. Maybe it was, as the two points added from Erling Haaland’s late goal sent them top of the table, on a day when it looked like they would drop another two points on Arsenal. When Haaland scored, he whipped his shirt off and twirled it around his head, Aguero-style.
At full-time, Haaland ran straight to Pep Guardiola for huge bear hug, and the striker was giving everyone and anyone hugs. Under instruction from the manager, the whole squad embarked on a lap of honour. The tannoy played the songs of chants for Haaland and Guardiola, lapped up by the two men of the moment, and this certainly felt like a big moment in the season. City may have made hard work of it, but the reaction to the late win on and off the pitch spoke volumes of what this three points could do.
Ake’s status grows
Of the fixtures this week, the Premier League clash with Fulham was by far the more important than the dead rubber against Sevilla. Guardiola made changes in midweek to rest legs and he fielded an entirely new back-four on Saturday. Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte, once City’s unbreakable first-choice pairing, returned to the bench, and Nathan Ake was back in alongside Manu Akanji and John Stones.
With Stones at right-back, it felt like a big vote of confidence in Ake to be preferred to Dias, Laporte and Stones for the biggest game of the week. Maybe the former two are being saved for the Carabao Cup clash with Chelsea next up, but Ake may have moved ahead of those players he’s spent so long in the shadows of at a perfect time before the World Cup.
Gomez’s status falls
Normally, when your left-back is sent off, you would call upon the left-back on the bench for a like-for-like substitution, sacrificing an attacker. However, Sergio Gomez remained off the pitch when Joao Cancelo saw red, with Bernardo Silva initially filling in at left-back, and Nathan Ake then moving there with Rodri dropping into defence.
After his red card at Copenhagen, Gomez didn’t exactly impress Guardiola in the week against Sevilla, and has now been snubbed for a centre-back and midfielder despite being the only available full-back. It would be an even bigger reflection of Gomez’s position if he was overlooked against Chelsea in the week.
Grealish running out of chances
Once again, Jack Grealish did everything asked of him against Fulham – stretching the defence, keeping possession, probing the space when available, and keeping the momentum in his side’s favour. However, once again, when the game wasn’t going City’s way, Grealish was the first to be hooked as Guardiola reshuffled his system in search of a win.
It sums up Grealish’s fortunes recently, in that he’s playing perfectly well, but still only has one goal to his name this season. He will surely be on the plane to the World Cup, and he may be given more licence to attack and get on the scoresheet for England. But for City, there are only two more opportunities to show Gareth Southgate what he can offer in terms of creating important chances that impact the outcome of games.
All eyes on Stamford Bridge
Guardiola identified Arsenal’s trip to Chelsea on Sunday as a possible chance for City to overtake the Gunners in the Premier League when he listed the difficult fixtures his rivals have before the World Cup. City’s late win over Fulham sends them top of the league, so all eyes turn to London tomorrow to see if they can stay there.
A win for Chelsea would keep Arsenal second, even if that would send Chelsea to the Etihad with some renewed confidence. The league won’t be won before the World Cup, although Guardiola hasn’t hidden his hopes of topping the table before the six-week break. Haaland’s late penalty might have kept that hope alive.
This content was originally published here.