A last-minute consolation and a bundled effort from a long throw-in are the only goals Manchester City has conceded in nine games across all competitions in 2021.
Pep Guardiola, one of the most attack-minded coaches in soccer history, has constructed a virtually impenetrable defensive unit in his fifth season at City and it is providing the platform for the team’s latest run at the Premier League title.
City’s lead grew to three points on Saturday after its battling 1-0 win over last-place Sheffield United was followed by second-place Manchester United’s latest slip-up, a 0-0 draw at Arsenal.
That’s five straight shutouts for City in the league — or 10 in its last 12 league games stretching back to a 2-0 loss at Tottenham on Nov. 21, when some were wondering if Guardiola’s latest iteration had the capability of winning the title this season.
Indeed, since a 5-2 loss to Leicester in City’s second league game — a result that shook Guardiola and led to him tightening up his defensive unit — the team has kept 20 clean sheets in 29 games in all competitions, conceding just 10 goals.
On a day when Guardiola rotated his lineup and City’s attack was never at its free-flowing best, a close-range effort from Gabriel Jesus in the ninth minute was enough to earn an eighth straight league win and see off a hard-working Sheffield United side looking far from the worst side in the division.
City’s defense, marshalled by the excellent Ruben Dias, was barely troubled.
When is it ever these days?
“When I woke up and went out of my building, I saw it was windy and freezing and I said, ‘Today will be the toughest game we are going to play this season,’” Guardiola said.
“Our commitment was fantastic. We played really well. We didn’t create much but we conceded few again. I am grateful to my players for the victory we had. It was so, so difficult and we did it.”
City’s 13 goals conceded is by far the fewest in the league heading into the second half of the campaign. Tottenham and Arsenal are tied for the next best record, with 20.
Arsenal managed to keep Man United scoreless at Emirates Stadium, meaning Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team has dropped five points in three days after losing 2-1 to Sheffield United on Wednesday.
City has a game in hand over United and is now the strong favorite for a third league title under Guardiola.
After five straight defeats that saw the team plunge toward the relegation zone, Newcastle rebounded with a 2-0 win at Everton — through a second-half double from Callum Wilson — to move eight points clear of the bottom three.
Fulham, which occupies the third and final spot in the relegation zone, drew 2-2 at next-to-last West Bromwich Albion.
Crystal Palace beat Wolverhampton 1-0 thanks to the latest wonder strike by Eberechi Eze.
Southampton hosts Aston Villa in the late game.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80