It seems crazy to consider Pep Guardiola was actually being asked about Manchester City lacking a cutting edge. A ruthless streak may have eluded City at Nottingham Forest last weekend and in Leipzig in midweek but there was no questioning their attacking output here, as City bludgeoned Bournemouth 4-1, a scoreline they eased towards with almost half of the game to play.
First-half goals by Julián Álvarez, Erling Haaland and Phil Foden earned City a comprehensive buffer before Chris Mepham’s own goal increased their advantage. Jefferson Lerma rattled in a consolation with seven minutes to play but City were always going to return within two points of leaders Arsenal, who have played one game fewer. The nip-and-tuck race continues.
It would be easy to fixate on the goals. Álvarez’s close-range finish for the first, Haaland sweeping in his 27th league goal from inside the six-yard box, his natural habitat, Foden lashing in City’s third before half-time after reading Philip Billing’s poor pass across the Bournemouth defence.
Álvarez was the catalyst for the fourth goal, his shot pinballing in via Mepham. But other moments detailed City’s desire to retain their crown, from Álvarez tracking back deep inside the City half to Haaland throwing himself towards the Bournemouth winger Dango Ouattara’s shot amid a desperate goalmouth scramble and a VAR check for a City handball as Rúben Dias lay grounded.
“They would be in trouble if they didn’t do it,” Guardiola smiled. “When the fans spend five or six hours in their car to come here and pay for a ticket, and our players with their salaries, we have to run when even it’s 3-0 or 4-0.”
At full time Guardiola herded up his players to go over to the away support in unison after an overwhelmingly positive evening. Guardiola had the luxury of being able to withdraw Rodri and Ilkay Gündogan after 55 minutes and Kevin De Bruyne was not required off the bench.
The City fans seemed determined to drink in the away win and Guardiola headed down the tunnel all smiles, revealing his squad made a concerted effort to show their gratitude. “We spoke about that in the locker room,” he said. “We [knew we] had to stay there longer because they [spent] five, six hours [travelling] to come here, big sacrifices, and the contribution they make, we can only given them the respect they deserve.”
Can we play you every week? That was one of the few songs City’s jubilant away support did not break into and in failing to do so, really, they missed something of an open goal. City have won all 12 of their Premier League meetings with Bournemouth, by an aggregate score of 38-6.
City fans were understandably in good spirits. “Erling Haaland, he’s scored more than you,” they sang as Haaland was replaced by the debutant Maximo Perrone, signed from Vélez Sarsfield in January. Before then, they made light of the charges handed down from the Premier League earlier this month over their alleged rule breaches. “We’ll cheat when we want,” came the chant after Ederson prevented a corner.
By the time Foden added City’s third approaching the interval, the game was rendered a non-event. The sight of the Bournemouth manager, Gary O’Neil, head bowed as Foden wheeled away in celebration towards the nearest corner flag told its own story. The bad news for Bournemouth was that was not the end of the damage.
“We got punished for a couple of mistakes,” O’Neil said. “Apart from the scoreline, I thought it was uncomfortable for City. They turned the ball over more than they do normally. I thought there was lots to be positive about.”
Guardiola had cut an animated figure during the warmup, slouched in the away dugout deep in discussion with his staff, but any worries quickly evaporated. “It is tough because we play a lot of games away, no recovery, games every three days, a lot of travel,” Guardiola said. “We will try to fight for this Premier League, I don’t have any doubts.”
Rico Lewis, one of three changes from midweek, slid in to steal the ball from the Bournemouth left-back Jordan Zemura as the City machine swiftly whirred into action on 15 minutes. Gündogan dinked a pass into Foden, who, played onside by Marcos Senesi, took the ball in his stride.
The Bournemouth goalkeeper and captain, Neto, saved Foden’s shot with his right boot but the rebound cannoned to Haaland, whose deflected shot hit the woodwork before Álvarez buried his shot.
By Haaland’s standards, the striker arrived in Dorset on something of a goal drought, with one goal across his previous six matches, but he side-footed in here after the ball ran kindly in the box after Zemura cut out Gündogan’s cross. Guardiola wore a filthy look when Lerma scored but this was a deeply satisfying evening.