In what was billed as a pivotal midweek round of action in the English Premier League, Portuguese players dominated the proceedings as Bernardo Silva, Rúben Neves and Diogo Jota scored crucial goals for their clubs to dictate the storylines.
Bernardo Silva was at the heart of the action with the decisive breakthrough goal to help title-chasers Manchester City to a 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the local derby at Old Trafford. Elsewhere, Neves and Jota both got their names on the scoresheet for Wolverhampton Wanderers as Nuno Espírito Santo’s side secured an impressive 3-1 win against Arsenal.
For English champions Manchester City there was a huge step towards retaining their title with a 2-0 away win over city rivals Manchester United. Second half goals from Bernardo and substitute Leroy Sane gave City the three points that see them move one point ahead of Liverpool at the top of the table with just three matches left to play.
Bernardo’s opener came at an ideal moment for City, just eight minutes after the re-start following an even first half. The Portugal midfielder found himself attacking the home side’s defence through the right-hand channel and Bernardo demonstrated fantastic footwork to shift the ball onto his favoured left foot and get a shot off in a swift movement that was too good for United full-back Luke Shaw and goalkeeper David De Gea.
Leroy Sane added a second for City to the delight of coach Pep Guardiola, who admitted that Bernardo’s goal had been a decisive point in the match. “At half-time I told the players they had to play to win – it doesn’t matter if they lose trying to win but we needed to try to win this game. After that run by Bernardo we showed that we wanted to do it,” he said during his post-match interview.
Nuno praises players as Neves, Jota shine
The result for United – for whom Diogo Dalot did not feature – was a setback in their chase for a top four position in the Premier League. However, the race for Champions League qualification took another turn as Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolverhampton Wanderers scored three first half goals to blitz 5th placed Arsenal 3-1 at Molineux.
Portuguese duo Rúben Neves and Diogo Jota were among the goalscorers for Wolves, who secured their first victory since losing the FA Cup semi-final to Watford at Wembley earlier this month. Nuno selected Rui Patrício, João Moutinho, Neves and Jota for his starting line-up, while Ivan Cavaleiro was introduced as a late substitute.
Neves opened the scoring with a trademark free-kick on 28 minutes, beating arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno with a well-placed shot inside the left-hand post. Wolves doubled their lead through Matty Doherty’s header on 38 minutes, before Jota made it three with a solo run and finish that evaded Leno.
For Jota it was an 8th goal of the Premier League season, having scored his first in the English top flight in December against Chelsea. The goal against The Blues ahead of the festive period was also Jota’s first of the season in all competitions and sparked the start of a run in which the Portuguese has nine goals and six assists from his last twenty appearances for Wolves.
The win over Arsenal moved Nuno’s men back into 7th place in the table and the nature of the performance delighted the Portuguese boss. “I’m very proud of the way we work, the way the players engage themselves and commit themselves to an idea because we give everything that we have each game, it’s a commitment to try to do everything you can to perform well,” Nuno said. “That’s what makes me proud, the belief of us in ourselves.”
“At the beginning of the game it was difficult to recover the ball, Arsenal have quality players, created some problems and we were able to break and the first moment we broke we were lucky enough to have this moment of talent and quality of Rúben.
“From there on I think we controlled the game better, it put us on the front foot, so well-played and it’s fantastic from the players, credit to them, they made a fantastic performance.”
Asked about Neves, who scored his 5th goal of what has been an impressive season for the 22-year-old, Nuno said: “He has quality and talent. He practises and there’s a lot of repetition in the movement of the ball. It really helped us to break the game. It put us in a good momentum.”
By Sean Gillen