The Citizens leapfrogged Liverpool thanks to a display full of creativity in attack, precision in their passing and composure all over the pitch. The visitors started quickly and their inventiveness led to three first-half goals which killed the game before Brighton knew what had hit them.
Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was badly at fault for the first, palming the ball down to Bernardo Silva while under minimal pressure in the penalty area, allowing the Portuguese midfielder to hook the ball back over his own head for Ilkay Gundogan to tap into the empty net.
A gorgeous counter-attack from a Brighton set-piece saw Silva slip a superbly crafted through ball into the path of Jack Grealish, and the former Aston Villa man was able to slide a ball across to Phil Foden which the 21-year-old converted with the help of the out-stretched leg of the desperate Dan Burn. Foden was then credited with another goal moments later as Gabriel Jesus’ strike flicked into the net past Sanchez via the Stockport-born forward’s calf.
Brighton rallied in the second half and spent significantly more time in and around the City penalty area, and Alexis McAllister scored from the penalty spot after Enock Mwepu was brought down in the penalty area by Ederson. Riyad Mahrez then added a fourth for the visitors in stoppage time with a clever finish from a Foden pass.
This was an intriguing game between two strong sides, and we learned plenty along the way.
City hitting their stride at the right time
City’s start to the season was, by their own lofty standards, middling at best with an opening day defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and an uncharacteristic home draw with Southampton leaving them in arrears to both Chelsea and Liverpool after the first few rounds of fixtures.
They have now scored eight goals in two away fixtures in a week, though, following on from an excellent performance at Anfield against the Reds that might have yielded three points had Mohamed Salah not decided to score possibly the greatest goal of his career with the sides level in the second half.
Guardiola’s men are improving both their numbers in attack and the efficiency of their performances just as the leaves drop from the trees, the clocks go back and the frequency of fixtures increases. If this is them taking things up a gear, then they have chosen a good moment to do so.
Gundogan’s goalscoring is here to stay
Ilkay Gundogan hadn’t played in the Premier League for over a month thanks to a troublesome hamstring injury, but it was the German midfielder who opened the scoring after capitalising on Sanchez’s error and Silva’s quick thinking.
That was the 30-year-old’s second goal of the season and the way he ghosted unnoticed into the penalty area to finish nonchalantly was reminiscent of plenty of his efforts from last season as he scored a staggering 17 goals in all competitions.
The former Borussia Dortmund man had never scored more than six in a season prior to 2020/21 but added the ability to arrive in the penalty area at just the right time to his game last season, and seemed to be playing with more freedom in empty stadia across the country and around Europe.
The evidence tonight strongly suggests that last season was no flash-in-the-pan and that he’s ready to produce similar form in front of crowds now.
Foden can be anything he wants to be
The introduction to this article referred Phil Foden as a ‘forward’. It might require a moment to consider if that’s the right label to use rather than ‘midfielder’, ‘attacking midfielder’, or ‘wide man’ these days.
The truth is that Foden is all of those things in one right now, and as his career develops he can choose whether he wants to be a world-class version of one them, or continue to pursue mastery of pretty much every attacking role in Guardiola’s system.
The 21-year-old is simultaneously playing like one of the best number 9s, number 10s, number 8s and number 7s in the world currently thanks to his sensational talent and intelligence, and tonight displayed the two qualities that make him one of the best players of his generation: supreme skill on the ball combined with excellent athleticism.
Brighton have little to worry about
The Seagulls won this fixture last season after coming from 2-0 down but there was never any real danger of a comeback here, despite the much-improved display in the second 45.
Graham Potter has engineered a marvellous start to the season for his side but results in fixtures like this against sides competing for the title are not the ones which will ultimately define how high up the league table they can finish.
If they can operate the level they did in the second half against the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal, and West Ham, though, then a European place could be a realistic ambition.
Mwepu and Moder strong Seagulls additions
It was summer signing Enock Mwepu who won the penalty which McAllister converted as the Zambian midfielder worked some space inside the box and latched onto a through ball before drawing the foul from the Ederson in goal.
The 23-year-old central midfielder impressed twice for former club Red Bull Salzburg in Champions League fixtures against Liverpool a couple of seasons back and played well here after coming on with just over half-an-hour to play.
Polish midfielder Jakub Moder, 22, is also enjoying a strong start to his Brighton career after spending last season on loan with Lech Poznan in his homeland, and won five aerial duels and made two tackles against Guardiola’s men tonight.
These are two strong, composed midfielders in a great age range and can contribute significantly to this campaign and the years to come for Brighton too.