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 By Simon Curtis

Manchester City character a sore sight for rivals in Premier League title race

When the final reckoning is made at the end of the 2017-18 season, Manchester City's swashbuckling dismantling of Liverpool, the amazing goal avalanches against Watford, Stoke and Palace will live long in the memory.

Sunday's hard-fought 2-1 win at Huddersfield Town will, however, have far more bearing on what will have transpired come next May.

Here was a proper scrap, a desperate struggle, with a home side happy to sit deep, track the key players and get physical when it was necessary. City's pretty passing machine did not chug to a halt -- far from it - but it had to grind away to find the space that eventually led to this win in extremis.

A match that bore little of the pretty triangles of Napoli and the devastating long passing of Stoke still bore beautiful fruit by the end. With Kevin De Bruyne tracked closely, what small spaces opened up did so for David Silva and Raheem Sterling, the game's main protagonists. City, forced to fight for every centimetre of grass by an energetic home side, refused to buckle and just kept at it.

Going behind at the psychologically damaging period just before the half time whistle only seemed to spur City on to greater efforts, as they came out at the start of the second half like a finely tuned steamroller.

As Huddersfield resorted to strong-arm tactics, so City's class began to show. The scarcely believable statistic of just 35 completed second half passes revealed a home side beginning to have serious problems containing the tide. In response, in the maelstrom of flying tackles and heavy breathing, City managed 336. It may have looked and felt hectic and hurried, breathless and desperate, but the passes just kept coming, the prodding and probing from one side of the pitch to the other just kept going.

In the end a slice of luck brought City their winner, a rebound from the goalkeeper's original save smacking off Sterling's chest and into the net, but the move had already served up 21 threaded passes.

City's 37 points from 13 games is testimony to Pep Guardiola's stubborn refusal to be swayed by all those who told him last season's lessons had to be learned with a change of style that would better suit the Premier League.

Fernandinho celebrates during Manchester City's Premier League win against Huddersfield.
Manchester City had to battle for it but in the end came away 2-1 winners at Huddersfield.

Instead the Catalan has stuck to his principles, got in the players to play his system and shown everyone how wrong they were. The winter pitches may be beginning to slow down City's effervescent style, but the points keep mounting up, despite the closeness of some of the most recent matches.

With the last two games won with little time to spare -- 88th and 84th minute Sterling winners against Feyenoord and Huddersfield -- City may well be nearing what will be a hysteria-inducing defeat. Logically, it has to come at some point and perhaps when it does, we will have a better idea of just what this side is made of.

Certainly they have now been stretched closer to the limit than in the early season games when Liverpool and Stoke, Crystal Palace and Watford fell to the kind of tidal wave of attacking that was so easy on the eye. Now, City enter the critical pre-Christmas period with the nights closing in, their breath floating in hot clouds in front of their flushed faces and the pitches becoming hard and heavy.

The 18 consecutive wins since the 1-1 draw with Everton in the season's opening home game in August stand as a monument to what this City side have already achieved. What Guardiola's men have managed is phenomenal. The champagne football has brought City to the attention of football connoisseurs everywhere, but in showing a capacity to win tough, to scrap for their lives and to refuse to be run out of their elegant stride, this team have perhaps scored its biggest success so far. The win may not have come as late as the away points-clincher by Sterling at Bournemouth back in August. It may not have been sealed with the panache of the goals storms mentioned above, but it showed a side to City that their opponents had been hoping not to be treated to.

It revealed a side capable of standing up to a physical battering, able to come back after falling behind -- the first time City have done this away from home since a match at Blackburn in 1995. It showed a team full of artists, who know how to dig in, know how to fight back and have the mental wherewithal to go with the sumptuous skills that have been on show almost weekly since August.

And the dawning of this new reality will be of even greater concern to those title rivals trying to keep City in their sights than anything seen so far this season.

Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.


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