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Mahrez breaks Bournemouth resistance as Man City go top

Riyad Mahrez scores for Man City against Bournemouth
Riyad Mahrez opened the scoring for Manchester City with his 11th goal of the season

Riyad Mahrez scored the only goal as Manchester City overcame injuries to Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones to edge past Bournemouth and go two points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The champions lost De Bryune and Stones either side of the break before Mahrez – on for Belgian De Bruyne – fired City in front at the start of the second half.

Sergio Aguero hit the bar from long range before Mahrez saw his header well saved by Artur Boruc as City continued to dominate.

But Pep Guardiola’s side held on for a narrow victory that puts the pressure back on title rivals Liverpool, who can return to the summit with victory over Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on Sunday.

It was a second 1-0 win in the space of four days for City, who once again dominated possession but were forced to be patient against dogged and defensive opponents.

They only created one clear-cut opportunity in the first half, when David Silva met De Bruyne’s low cross but could only side-foot wide.

Seconds before the break they suffered their first injury blow when De Bryune went down unchallenged and immediately signalled to the bench that he wanted to come off.

It was the same scenario at the start of the second period, with John Stones walking off the field to be replaced by Vincent Kompany.

Despite those setbacks, City continued to push forward and deservedly took the lead after 55 minutes. Charlie Daniels failed to properly clear Bernado Silva’s pass, the ball falling Silva who teed up Mahrez to fire home at Boruc’s near post.

The Bournemouth goalkeeper could possibly have done better, but made up for it with a series a impressive stops to keep the score at 1-0.

The 39-year-old showed great athleticism to tip Aguero’s lofted effort on to the bar before pushing Mahrez’s header away from point-blank range.

Bournemouth offered little as an attacking forced in reply, failing to have a shot at goal or force a single corner.

Man City win – but at what cost?

The sight of a pumped-up Guardiola passionately hugging all his players on the pitch at the final whistle highlighted the importance of this win in an increasingly fascinating title race.

The result was just reward for City’s patience and determination, as they stuck to their possession-based approach even though they failed to break through a packed defence early on.

The champions had 82% possession, forced 14 corners and had 23 shots at goal in a win that was a lot more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.

The victory came at cost however, with Guardiola confirming De Bruyne came off with a muscular issue while Stones was substituted as a precaution.

With Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte already sidelined, even a squad as talented as City’s is being stretched.

Guardiola will have been delighted therefore with the impact of Mahrez, who was ineffective against West Ham in midweek but was much improved here.

The City boss was also boosted by the return of Gabriel Jesus, who came on as a late substitute after three weeks out with a hamstring injury.

Both are likely to play a key role in the coming weeks, with this game the first of five matches across three competitions in a hectic March for City as they seek an unprecedented quadruple.

Bournemouth battle but are blunt in attack

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe responded to Wednesday’s 5-1 thrashing at Arsenal by switching formation to a back three, with wing-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Charlie Daniels effectively making it a back five.

The plan was clear – defend deep in numbers and limit the space for City’s forward players in dangerous areas.

The Cherries have the worst defensive record outside the bottom three, so it was an understandable approach against the most prolific side in the division.

The formation worked perfectly in the first half, with Nathan Ake superbly marshalling the defence alongside Chris Mepham and Jack Simpson, the latter making his first Premier League appearance of the season.

That approach obviously needed changing once Mahrez put the visitors ahead, but Howe waited until the 75th minute before bringing on an extra forward in Lys Mousset.

The tactical change had little impact, with the Cherries failing to test Ederson with a single shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.

Howe will hope the imminent return of top-scorer Callum Wilson after six weeks out with a hamstring injury will boost his blunted attack as they seek the points the Bournemouth manager still feels they need to banish any lingering fears of relegation.

BBCSPORTS

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