They had to ride their luck at times, but Manchester City showed the mettle of champions to battle back into the Premier League title race with victory over Liverpool, a win that came about as a result of keeping the faith.
In his fascinating interview with Spanish football expert Guillem Balague in late October, City manager Pep Guardiola spoke, as he often does, about how he adheres to the principles set by mentor Johan Cruyff.
One such principle Guardiola was keen to point out was his game management style revolving around perfecting Plan A, rather instantly turning to Plan B, just as Cruyff did.
Should things start to go wrong, there is no need to throw on the big man, just make the odd tweak here and there, stick with the philosophy and, most importantly, the players.
At that moment in time, Guardiola was hardly going to be hunting for ways to rejuvenate a City side that were still unbeaten atop the Premier League.
However, where Guardiola would have been forgiven for putting his mentors theology to one side was going into a clash with a Liverpool-shaped juggernaut, seven points clear of City, still unbeaten after 20 games, led by a manager Guardiola has lost to most often in his career, with his own side having lost three of the last five. Guardiola, though, is not for turning.
“Results do not change mentality and philosophy,” Guardiola said in his programme notes. “We trust the way we want to play. It has brought success last season and most of this one.”
And upon receiving the team sheets pre-match, it was clear he was man of his word, with Guardiola naming a spine of Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho, David Silva and Sergio Aguero against the vibrant Liverpool - and this band of loyal servants, all over 30, repaid the faith their manager bestowed in them, and some.
Kompany, as he left the pitch following the warm up, was beating his chest, getting himself psyched up for the contest, and in seeing this most Neanderthal of an act, many team mates followed suit, geeing each other up in unison.
The atmosphere around the ground was a strange one, though. On the Metrolink from central Manchester to the stadium, several cries of “City, City, City” came from one end then the other, trying to rouse their fellow fan, but most were having none of it - they were simply too nervous.
The cagey feeling remained until kick off, but that all changed soon enough, as City fans saw that their most tried and trusted lieutenant, Fernandinho, was back, flying into challenges, that still, somehow, escaped further punishment.
Sadio Mane bore the brunt of an early smash, before Andrew Robertson was flattened by another Fernandinho special. Soon enough, Aguero had done what he does best too, finishing that one chance he got with unforgiving precision to put City in front - all seemed back to normal.
Guardiola did tinker, slightly, because this was such an important game. Oleksandr Zinchenko could not be risked in a game of this magnitude, so Aymeric Laporte was moved to full back with Kompany coming in.
However, Raheem Sterling was on the right flank, Leroy Sane on the left, Aguero through the middle, Bernardo Silva and David Silva floating and Fernandinho the anchor - business as usual.
Even when the scoreline was at 1-1, there was no panic changes from Guardiola, everyone stayed in their same position, substitutions were like-for-like, as the manager kept faith.
“What did I change?” Guardiola quipped post match when a journalist asked if it was a plan to go more direct against Liverpool.
“At Anfield I agree with you, but here no way. More direct? We spoke with Sterling and Leroy to make runs in behind, but that is it. Little changes.
“I don’t know how many times we create the usual pass from Ederson to centre backs. Today I had the feeling we tried to do what we do in 16 months. That is my feeling.”
On another day, things could easily have gone differently. Kompany was certainly fortunate to avoid a red card for his challenge on Mohamed Salah, while John Stones’ goal-line clearance early in the match saved his own blushes - had that gone in Liverpool could have had one hand on a first Premier League crown.
Nonetheless, over a season, you need that bit of luck. What sets the very best apart, though, is whether that good fortune is capitalised upon and City, through tried and trusted means, showing their teeth and setting aside their pristine fluidity temporarily, did just that.
Much to relief of all outside Merseyside, the title race is back on. City, it seems, are up for the fight, but don’t expect their manager to be racking his brains to offer a different approach - he has seen what his side can do, just as they are - why change now?News Now - Sport News