Raheem Sterling saved Manchester City from a second consecutive disappointing draw with a dramatic 97th-minute winner that sent Pep Guardiola and City fans alike into rapturous celebrations at Bournemouth.
Sterling was then shown a ridiculous second yellow card for jumping into the crowd at the end of a frantic match that featured a wonder-goal, two shots fired off the post, several disputed calls and some heated exchanges late on. But it was his goal that, at long last, gave City a reward for its dominance.
City has been one of the most impressive and overwhelming teams in the Premier League through three weeks. Whether at home or on the road, whether with 11 men or 10, the Citizens have resembled the title favorites many thought they were. But heading into stoppage time on Saturday, 180-plus minutes of dominance over the past six days looked set to yield just two points, four dropped, and a pair of frustrating draws.
In fact, the five minutes of added time signaled for by the fourth official had elapsed. “There was only five minutes of added on time, so ask the referee why we played seven,” an understandably aggrieved Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels said after the game.
But the number displayed on the fourth official’s board is merely a minimum. There were several stoppages during those five minutes. And the same time-wasting and delays that Guardiola had bemoaned on the touchline all afternoon gave City just enough time to pull a second away win out of nowhere.
The hosts had gone ahead after 12 minutes when Daniels fired a half-volley in off the underside of the crossbar from an improbable position wide of the penalty area:
Bournemouth deserved its lead. Eddie Howe’s side had endured a rough start to the campaign, but it pressed City early and prevented the visitors from exerting their customary level of control.
From there, City took over the game. And when City achieves some semblance of control, that control often grows and grows, because it builds on itself. Consistent ball possession gives fullbacks the confidence to get forward. If fullbacks are offering wide attacking threats, wingers can come inside and flood the midfield. The overflowing midfield pinned an overwhelmed Bournemouth back, and made City’s counterpress even more effective.
Possession was roughly shared – 54 percent to 46 percent in favor of Man City – over the opening 20 minutes, but over the latter half of the first 45, City had nearly 75 percent of it. In the second half, Guardiola’s side had 77 percent of the ball.
The visitors’ dominance produced an equalizer, but for much of the afternoon nothing more. In the first half, Bernardo Silva spearheaded a 3-v-2 break but, much to the chagrin of David Silva, chose to shoot from the edge of the penalty area. Benjamin Mendy supplied six first-half crosses, more than the entire Bournemouth team, but Jesus spoiled Mendy’s best one at the far post.
The Cherries dragged themselves to their feet early in the second half, and had a select few opportunities to re-take the lead. Josh King struck the post after around an hour.
But the second half was primarily City, and it was primarily City in the attacking third. Nicolas Otamendi guided a header off the post himself. There were perhaps no clear-cut, guilt-edged chances, but there were certainly chances. Plenty of them.
Bournemouth appeared to have done enough to hold out for a draw. It had stymied the visitors for 96 minutes. But it needed to for a 97th and 98th minute, and couldn’t quite do so.
Sterling’s winner, five days after his late equalizer against Everton, is the kind of goal that wins title races. It won’t be recalled as such because it was scored in August, and because it changed just one match out of 38. But especially after dropping two points against Everton, these were a massive three for City to steal.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.