Manchester City’s Boxing Day victory at Hull was inspired by a second-half masterclass from one club stalwart and one youngster who is rapidly becoming crucial to his team. For both, there is an element of a classic redemption story at the heart of their success, says Richard Burns.
Everybody knows what happened with Yaya Touré this season. It’s old hat and a touch boring to labour on now about his spell out of the team and to offer reminders that Pep Guardiola had effectively exiled the Ivorian from City’s team. Touré was told he would not be selected until there an apology from his agent for comments made about the Blues manager and the club.
Since that apology came from the midfielder, he has been instrumental in any success City have had. He scored two goals on his return against Crystal Palace to secure three points in a tight game. Though he is not quite the first name on the teamsheet these days, he has made himself vital to the Blues again; this was in evidence as City overcame frustration to beat the Premier League’s bottom club on Monday.
For the first 45 minutes they probed, they held possession and they set up camp around the Tigers’ penalty box, but ultimately City were toothless. Though Hull did fashion a couple of chances, the visitors were largely unruffled and were exerting their style on the game, just without any end product. It’s become a familiar problem. Nolito, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva could have the ball in good wide positions all they wanted, but when the only teammates inside a packed box were those lacking in height, they were always going to struggle to pick them out.
The second period was better. There was a spell where Hull did put pressure on City and at one point it took Bacary Sagna clearing off the line to keep the score level, but Guardiola’s men took control. Kevin De Bruyne hit the post with a clever effort and the home side were fortunate to see the ball spin away from goal rather than fall to the waiting Kelechi Iheanacho.
City had to be patient, but they finally got their reward for their improved intensity when they broke the deadlock in the 72nd minute. It was a goal that brought together the youngster and the veteran as Raheem Sterling earned his side a penalty that was duly dispatched by Touré.
Sterling’s redemption is even more pleasing than Toure’s. The youngster was demonised for leaving Liverpool for the Etihad in the summer of 2015. That his first season in Manchester did not go as well as hoped made him an easy target for the national press and he became something of a scapegoat for a less-than-impressed City fan base. He had a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign as England disgraced themselves, and he was inexplicably painted as the villain despite the whole team being an embarrassment.
To see him flourishing, refreshed and renewed under Guardiola is extremely satisfying and he is getting to the point where he is as close to being a guaranteed starter as is possible. He was decisive again at the KCOM Stadium. He earned the penalty by taking a risk. Where his teammates had so regularly got the ball wide and stalled for ideas, Sterling faced no such problem. He darted into the box and his quick feet and energy caused panic, drawing a foul from a desperate tackle. Touré got the goal, but the credit should really go to Sterling.
He was crucial again as the Blues completed the scoring in stoppage time, after Kelechi Iheanacho had already killed the game in the 78th minute with City’s second goal. For the third, Sterling found himself in acres of space after a magnificent outside-of-the-foot pass by the imperious Touré. Running towards the box, he toyed with the covering defender, slowing down before leaving him for dead with another burst of pace. His ball into the box went in for an own goal off the unfortunate Curtis Davies, but once again the credit really belonged to City’s number seven.
It’s heartening to see Touré back and pulling the strings in the middle for the Blues. His story deserves a better ending than the one he seemed to be heading for and it’s satisfying to see how hard he has worked to get in shape and become a key cog in Guardiola’s machine. However, it is even more glorious to witness the rise of Sterling. This City side is unimaginable without his dynamism and it is tantalising to think just how good the future will be for him. City will benefit for years to come.