Pep Guardiola praised the “exceptional” mood among his Manchester City players after they remained on Arsenal’s heels in the Premier League title race by thrashing Bournemouth.
City ran out comfortable 4-1 winners at the Vitality Stadium, having effectively wrapped up victory by the end of a first half in which they struck three times through Julian Alvarez, Erling Haaland and Phil Foden and outclassed the hosts.
“I’m very pleased with what I’m seeing every day,” said Guardiola. “The mood of the locker room is exceptional, the training sessions are really, really good. Everyone is helping each other.
Chris Mepham deepened Bournemouth’s woes an own goal shortly after the interval.
It was a clinical display of finishing from City who looked like scoring every time they attacked, as the gap on leaders Arsenal was cut back to two points following the Gunners’ win earlier on Saturday.
It was a first victory in three for the champions, who dropped two points away to Nottingham Forest in their last league outing before drawing the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie away to RB Leipzig on Wednesday.
There were no such difficulties for Guardiola’s side on the south coast as they returned to winning ways with efficiency and style to stay hot on Arsenal’s trail.
Guardiola added: “It’s tough because we played a lot of games away this last month. No recovery, three days between games, big travel. A lot of pressure, demanding physicality.
“Today we came here and behaved in the way we behaved. It made me feel we still have the desire to try and to try. We will try to fight for this Premier League, I don’t have any doubts.”
Pep: Players in trouble if they don’t salute fans
Even at 4-0 up in the second half, City’s players could be seen fighting doggedly to try and preserve their clean sheet.
Top scorer Haaland, whose first-half strike took his haul to 27 in the league and to within seven goals of the all-time Premier League record for a season, was among the players scrapping to get the ball clear as Bournemouth threatened from a goalmouth scramble.
Guardiola said that he expects no less from his players in their duty to the team’s fans, who had travelled down from Manchester.
“The players will be in trouble if they don’t do it,” said the manager. “They will be in trouble. When fans come five or six hours in their cars, buy a ticket, with our salaries, we have to run whether it’s 3-0, 4-0, 5-0.
“It sounds like I am a demagogue, but it’s the truth. You can perform well or bad. But the effort in this club whilst I’m here never will be put in doubt.
“We see the faces how happy they are when we win. You produce a good feeling in people, families. Tell me something else that can be better than that. Our supporters away are incredible.”
O’Neil: Plenty of positives from second half
Jerfferson Lerma’s late strike gave home supporters some momentary cheer after 83 minutes, but this had been the champions’ day.
Bournemouth manager Gary O’Neil felt his side gave a good account of themselves but were undone by individual mistakes that proved costly.
“Not passing to them twice in our half would have been good,” said O’Neil. “I thought the performance was decent. We got punished for a couple of mistakes.
“I thought we were on the front foot. Apart from the scoreline, I thought it was uncomfortable for Man City.
“I thought we gave it a real good go, but we got heavily punished for a couple of mistakes. We didn’t make the most of our opportunities. There was lots to be positive about.”
Man City must stay on Arsenal’s coat-tails
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:
“A lot of the times when you lose to Manchester City, there’s quality to their goals but there was a scruffiness to them tonight. Zemura was only interested in going forward while Billing was also sloppy for one of the goals.
“Teams punish you at this level. The third before half-time killed Bournemouth. Gary O’Neil may think this isn’t the worst result in the world, and they deserved their goal but Pep Guardiola will know these are vital three points.
“You’ve got to stay on Arsenal’s coat-tails and you’ve got to keep asking the question. It’s a big win.”
How Lewis helped unleash Gundogan
Is City’s cloak of invincibility slipping? It has been asked this past week. It was questioned whether Pep Guardiola no longer has a harmonious dressing room.
When the cracks have emerged in title rivals before, City have gone into overdrive. Not this season. It is they who have left the door ajar. It is not the City we’ve become accustomed to.
So they came to the Vitality Stadium to take the points and to make one at the same time. Three unanswered first-half goals from Julian Alvarez, Erling Haaland and Phil Foden blew Bournemouth away.
After a winless midweek in Europe, Pep Guardiola’s side delivered the response he wants. Certainly in terms of the first 80 minutes of this match. Pep, ever the perfectionist, will be disappointed to lose the clean sheet so late on.
Kevin De Bruyne, who missed the Leipzig game through illness, was fit enough only for the substitutes bench – but it was the use of Rico Lewis which allowed Ilkay Gundogan to decide this match before the interval.
Lewis has not started a game, nor been used at all, since City were beaten at Tottenham earlier this month, but it was his ability to cut inside which would allow Gundogan licence to drift forward – De Bruyne-like – and cause so much damage.
Lewis said: “I got my rhythm quickly and did as well as I could. Pep just tells me to play my normal game but asks me to go inside alongside Rodri, to give us more control of the midfield.
“It’s about winning the ball back on the transition. It’s nice that he wants to play me and trusts me, it’s up to me to perform.”
Foden helped himself to a goal and an assist in the first half, as did Haaland – onto 27 PL goals which surpasses Sergio Aguero as the most in a single PL season for City – with 13 games still to play. Big moments for big players.
Foden’s only other goal since the World Cup came in the convincing 4-0 win over Chelsea in the third round of the FA Cup. For Haaland, it was just his second in his last seven games to quieten the noise around whether City are getting the best out of him. City face Newcastle next up at the Etihad – it is as you were in the title race.
Bournemouth must remain in touch come April
Bournemouth were without the injured Marcus Tavernier – and the hosts missed last week’s match winner at Wolves. But it won’t be in games such as these that their Premier League status will be decided.
Gary O’Neil brought Chris Mepham into the team in what was the only change from the Cherries’ win at Molineux, but on the same day his country were beaten by England in the Six Nations, Welshman Mepham was faced with a baptism of fire – his own goal compounded a torrid evening for the centre-back.
Jefferson Lerma reduced the arrears late on with his first goal since October – and O’Neil pointed to the positive of having drawn the second half.
“In terms of effort and endeavour and the response to going behind, we were on the front foot,” he said. “You could feel from the fans that they were on board with the type of performance that we put in.
“We just came up a little bit short against a very good team. It was an interesting test for them at half-time because you feel the game is done.
“The second half needed to be a response and we showed the world that we did. The fourth goal could’ve killed the boys off but we still created opportunities.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t score a couple more. When you’re a player, you get to reflect on these games and see the level City are at. There’s a lot I will take from today and build on the positives.”
O’Neil knows the nature of this division means his side must start collecting more points, however. Bournemouth have won only one of their nine Premier League games since the World Cup break, losing six times, with their five points accrued during that time fewer than any other side.
They face a crucial April with fixtures against Southampton, West Ham and Leeds – those are the games that will decide whether they stay in the Premier League or not.
Bournemouth’s next game is away to title-chasing Arsenal on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. Gary O’Neil’s side then host Liverpool on Saturday March 11; kick-off 12.30pm.
Manchester City will now switch their focus to the FA Cup, where they face a trip to Bristol City on Tuesday; kick-off 8pm. Pep Guardiola’s side then host top-four hopefuls Newcastle on Saturday; kick-off 12.30pm.