Analysing Kelechi Iheanacho's performance for Manchester City against United
When news broke that Sergio Aguero would receive a retrospective ban for an elbow against West Ham, Manchester City fans could have been forgiven for allowing a few doubts to creep into their minds ahead of today’s big derby match at Old Trafford, but Kelechi Iheanacho put those fears to bed with a superb performance as he led the line for Pep Guardiola up against Eric Bailly and Daley Blind in a strong physical battle.
The 19-year-old Nigerian may only have lasted 53 minutes, before Pep Guardiola replaced him with Fernando to add more solidity in defence as the Red Devils upped the pressure on debutant Claudio Bravo, but he proved to be the difference as his assist opened up the scoring for Kevin de Bruyne in the 15th minute before scoring what would go on to be the winner 21 minutes later.
For the first, Iheanacho outfoxed Eric Bailly with some superb movement allowing him to gain that extra yard which allowed him to put Aleksander Kolarov’s excellent long ball into the path of Kevin de Bruyne to beat David de Gea to put the blue half of Manchester into the lead.
Then, the youngster showed experience belying his age to position himself perfectly to remain onside but behind United’s defence to show an instinctive striker’s finish to pounce when the ball rebounded from the post from the Belgian’s shot and de Gea was left with no chance as the Nigerian made sure from six yards out.
In fact, that goal was his only shot in the game, but his poacher’s instinct made it clear that his clinical finishing counted in what went on to be the winner. The Nigerian international contributed far more than that though, with two goalscoring opportunities created, and an impressive pressing game which stopped United from building from the back early on and ensuring that City dominated the opening exchanges and gave themselves an early lead.
Iheanacho sacrificed himself up front, failing in all three of his take-ons, to do the leg work and hard work for his teammates as he focused on defending from the front and being on his toes to make the most of any opportunity that came his way. With such a selfless display, it is no surprise that he began to tire and was the first man to be replaced by his Spanish manager.
In fact, Guardiola’s decision to substitute Iheanacho could easily be criticised as the wrong one. By removing his threat in favour of solidity in midfield, the Citizens invited pressure onto to themselves and allowed United more time and space to build up with possession from the back, which became dangerous at times.
With Aguero still suspended for City’s next two fixtures, welcoming Bournemouth next weekend and then facing a trip to Swansea in the EFL Cup, Iheanacho has an opportunity to put his stamp of authority on the position. With Wilfried Bony having been loaned out to Stoke, the 19-year-old has a lot of pressure on his shoulders as the club’s second choice striker, but given his performance in the Manchester derby, the most pressured of all fixtures, it seems like he could be able to handle it.
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