De Bruyne justifies Guardiola ‘decision’ as City ensure fleeting Arsenal, Liverpool dreamland trip

Lewis Oldham
Man City vs Palace
Kevin De Bruyne scores for Manchester City.

Kevin De Bruyne justified Pep Guardiola’s “great decision” to bench hat-trick hero Phil Foden as Manchester City piled the pressure on Arsenal and Liverpool.

“When it comes to the ones where they’re looking at the fixtures and thinking ‘that’s three points, that’s three points’, they’re the ones where one of the teams in the title race might slip up.”

Arsenal legend Nigel Winterburn sent this warning to Liverpool after their midweek scare against Sheffield United, but it was Man City who were the next team at risk of falling foul against lowly opponents.

There are bound to be many twists and turns during the Premier League run-in as the three-team title race between Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal grows increasingly tense with each passing game.

The Guardiola-inspired era of dominance has created the feeling that the dropping of points in a single game is enough to derail a title tilt with City renowned for their season-ending winning runs to clinch the Premier League.

Liverpool’s mentality monsters need to repeat the peak of 2019/20, while Arsenal’s process pilgrims must reach new heights amid their bottlers tag if either side are to dethrone Man City this season.

Past run-ins suggest Liverpool and Arsenal need to work off the assumption that Man City will not drop a single point for the rest of this season and this puts them under almighty pressure.

While the two chasers had 18 minutes of fun while Liverpool were level with Sheffield United, it was Man City’s rivals who were in dreamland after a rare mistake from John Stones and subsequent clinical counter-attack enabled in-form striker Jean-Philippe Mateta to score his fifth goal in his last nine Premier League matches after just three minutes.

Liverpool and Arsenal were allowed to be in this joyous state for all of ten minutes as a sensational curling effort from Kevin De Bruyne nestled in the far top corner to silence Selhurst Park.

De Bruyne (and League Two striker Erling Haaland) returned to the starting XI after an unexpectedly easy night’s work against Aston Villa allowed Guardiola to rest his two stars.

In their absence, Phil Foden – as he has done throughout this season – turned up when Guardiola and his teammates needed him as the PFA Player of the Year contender netted his second hat-trick of the season in City’s dominant 4-1 win. 

But with Guardiola being the tinkerer he is (plus with a Champions League quarter-final first leg in Madrid to come on Tuesday), it was hardly a surprise that the great Spanish coach decided it was Foden’s turn to sit on the bench against Palace.

With a vital trip to Real Madrid just three days away, Guardiola would have hoped for a simple afternoon at Selhurst Park against Oliver Glasner’s Palace.

While he was coming up against a new-look Palace side with Glasner in the dugout, Guardiola was right to feel confident ahead of Saturday’s fixture as he had earned six wins and two draws from his previous eight visits to Selhurst Park.

And after Man City levelled within 15 minutes, it would have been fair of Guardiola and his onlooking rivals to assume that this match would soon turn into a procession in favour of the visitors.

But Winterburn (Nigel, not our Winty) claimed the teams lower in the league would be “pumped up” to face City, Liverpool and Arsenal during the run-in and Palace were just that.

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Glasner had endured a steady but unremarkable start at Palace since replacing Roy Hodgson but their first-half showing against Man City suggests they are on the right track.

Palace’s defensive resoluteness restricted City, while they were reactive in turnovers as January signing Adam Wharton in particular latched onto their opponents’ sloppiness.

The hosts were certainly deserving to head into the break level and Liverpool/Arsenal would have been praying that they held out longer than just two second-half minutes before going behind in the match.

Unfortunately for Palace and City’s two rivals, Guardiola’s men do tend to find a way and Rico Lewis’ goal from inside the penalty area completed their turnaround.

Palace’s did not create openings as frequently after the interval and hopes of them getting back into the game ended with 25 minutes as Football League fraud Haaland *finally* got on the scoresheet after previously spurning a one-on-one opportunity.

Guardiola said pre-match that his call to bench Foden would look like a “great decision” if Man City beat Palace and after scoring in a stunning fashion before the break, his replacement De Bruyne did so again late on to net his second and his side’s fourth to further justify his manager’s pre-Real Madrid tinkering, before Odsonne Edouard’s consolation.

So with the threat of Palace throwing a spanner into Man City’s potentially title-clinching form proving to be a fleeting fear, their attention switches to Madrid as they pursue an unprecedented double-treble.

This is while they will surely have one eye on Liverpool and Arsenal with the pressure now firmly back on Man City’s rivals, who will have gone above and beyond to earn the title if they manage to stand firm with Guardiola’s men looming ominously over their shoulders.