Raheem Sterling saves Man City after Charlie Daniels' stunner
BOURNEMOUTH, England -- Manchester City left it late to secure a hard-fought 2-1 win at Bournemouth, but how they needed all three points on what might have otherwise have been a troubling day on the south coast.
1. Sterling saves the day
Raheem Sterling's late strike broke Bournemouth's hearts but delighted the supporters after damaging reports of a rift between manager Pep Guardiola and striker Sergio Aguero. Sterling was dismissed shortly afterward -- apparently for going into the crowd to celebrate his winning goal -- yet, with the points secured, it was little more than acceptable collateral damage.
Aguero was left out of the starting XI for the first time this season and was reported to have stayed on the team coach for some time after his teammates had disembarked. The opening games of this Premier League season had suggested that Guardiola had found a way to use Aguero in tandem with Gabriel Jesus, but Saturday's teamsheet suggested a rethink. There might be trouble ahead.
Guardiola, perhaps hoping to catch his opposite number Eddie Howe unawares, didn't just drop Aguero; he dropped the back three he'd used in his first two games, too. Howe, presumably trying to gain a similar advantage over Guardiola, also changed shape, adopting his own back three and packing the centre of midfield.
The result was a curious opening 10 minutes with both sets of players slowly realising that all their preparations were now redundant.
But it was Bournemouth who made the better start with Josh King's pace and skill causing Nicolas Otamendi problems at the back. As City slowly tried to find their way, Bournemouth grew in confidence, taking a deserved lead in spectacular style after 13 minutes when Charlie Daniels nearly ripped out the back of the net with a thunderbolt from the corner of the penalty area.
It should have been two just four minutes later: Andrew Surman's deep cross fell right into the path of Jermain Defoe, but the veteran striker could only hit his volley straight at Ederson.
That shook City out of their lethargy; Sterling swiftly chalked up their first shot on target before Gabriel Jesus equalised when City capitalised on a quick free kick and David Silva fed the young Brazilian with a deft through ball.
It wasn't convincing, but Guardiola could at least be consoled by the knowledge that City had finally clicked into gear. A sublime pass from Kevin De Bruyne found the excellent Benjamin Mendy clear on the left, and his ferocious low cross was slammed into the side netting; David Silva came close shortly afterward, and Bernardo Silva should have done far better when the hapless Nathan Ake put him through on goal with a misplaced pass. As half-time approached, Guardiola stomped up and down the touchline, hitting himself repeatedly in the forehead with his fist.
But the promise of the first half faded in the second and, after a Bournemouth revival culminated with Josh King hammering the woodwork, Aguero was summoned from the bench and Jesus was pushed out onto the left. Yet it was Otamendi who went closest as City stepped up a gear, bouncing a header gently off Asmir Begovic's far post with 15 minutes left.
With five minutes to go, Aguero, perhaps sensing a moment of purest "I told you so" stepped up to take a free kick just outside the Bournemouth penalty area but could only send the ball whistling past the post.
Fortunately for City, after Bournemouth had almost struck on the counter, Sterling controlled a bouncing ball in the box and swung a deflected looping shot into the net with seven minutes on the injury time clock to save the day. His celebrations will see him suspended, but City could argue that the three points were worth it.
2. New arrivals show their skills
City have, as is their wont, invested heavily this summer, but those investments seem to have been wise ones.
Bernardo Silva made his first start here and, after an uncertain beginning, grew into the game and began to enjoy exploiting the gaps in the Bournemouth defence. He can over-elaborate on the ball, which might have been the reason for his 65th-minute withdrawal, but the 23-year-old will soon settle.
At left-back, Mendy also made an assured full debut, stretching the Cherries with his rampaging runs and producing more crosses on his own before half-time than the entire Bournemouth team managed all day.
Danilo, used from the bench against Everton on Monday, was impressive, and Ederson, who had no chance with Daniels' shot, looks a considerable upgrade to Claudio Bravo in goal. Guardiola has staked his reputation on significant spending, but City seem to be all the better for it.
3. Bournemouth can take heart from performance
Bournemouth, one of the smallest but most enterprising teams in the league, will find themselves looking up at almost all of their rivals for the duration of the international break, but they can take solace from an encouraging performance. Manager Howe deserves credit for the bold tactical switch that appeared to befuddle City for the first quarter of the game and the supporters at the Vitality Stadium will have to wait a long time before they see a better goal than Charlie Daniels' effort.
Bournemouth could have been reduced to 10 men when Ake dawdled on the ball only to immediately lose it to the tigerish Jesus. Panicking, Ake hooked out a leg and felled his tormentor as he looked to dart clear on goal, but he picked up only a yellow card.
But they will rue two big missed chances, one from Defoe and another crashed against the woodwork by King midway through the second half. However, they showed enough here to suggest that they'll recover their poise before long.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.