There are no easy games in the Premier League. Apart from all the easy ones.
It’s glib, but while last week’s potentially costly 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest was a reminder that you can never be entirely sure any game will be easy, if you’re Manchester City or anyone else half decent then lots of games do turn out to be very easy indeed.
And there are few safer bets in the “will this game be easy?” canon than Manchester City playing Bournemouth. That’s played 12, won 12 for City against Bournemouth in the Premier League and for barely a single solitary second was this result in any kind of doubt.
It was entirely welcome for Pep Guardiola, whose side have unconvincingly hauled themselves back into the title race over recent weeks but have laboured to do so. This was all marvellously serene, with a four-goal lead in place shortly after half-time in a game played at something close to walking pace from that moment on as City opted for energy conservation and Bournemouth for damage limitation.
This was not a football match from which to draw too many firm conclusions. Bournemouth were poor enough to heighten existing concerns that relegation is the likeliest outcome for them this season, yet showed just about enough spirit despite the game being long lost to make you think they might still have some sort of chance. City beat a team they ought to (and do) beat to end a challenging week on a good note. They’ll do precisely the same thing a good few times yet before the season is out, whether their finishing position is first or second. Or third.
The good news for Guardiola did extend beyond the result and lack of endeavour required to achieve it, though. Phil Foden back to looking something like the pre-World Cup version was perhaps the most significant. It’s been a trying period for Foden, and while he was presented with the chance to score the third goal just before half-time by the generosity of Philip Billing, the manner in which he accepted the gift was still pleasing.
His assist for Erling Haaland’s customary goal – a 27th in the Premier League to take him past Sergio Aguero’s best ever league season for City – was smartly done too, but it was his all-round play that will delight Guardiola.
This was the Foden we want to see, buzzing around and this evening taking on the role of chief creator in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, whose relegation to the bench here proved unsurprisingly less costly than it did a few weeks ago at Tottenham.
Foden made seven key passes in all – three more than the rest of his team-mates combined – and got on the ball far more often than any of City’s other attackers. It was nice to see him running a Premier League game like this again, even if City did spend much of it cruising around the place in second gear.
It was a match that invites the comment that bigger tests await, and in time they will. But City do have a nice little run of games coming up that will go a long way to deciding whether this ends up as a season of disappointment by the impossibly high standards of the last five years or perhaps the greatest in City’s history. Four of their next six, including Leipzig in the Champions League are at home. One of the two away games is at Bristol City in the FA Cup.
Certainly there is nothing in City’s upcoming Premier League schedule to suggest they should be anywhere but still right in Arsenal’s slipstream when the Gunners arrive at the Etihad in late April.
But there are no easy games in Our League.