Manchester City extended their unbeaten streak to 14 matches in all competitions with a close win over Brighton.
Phil Foden scored the only goal just before halftime when he picked up Kevin de Bruyne’s pass, created space and shot into the bottom corner.
The hosts had opportunities to extend the lead, Riyad Mahrez fired wide, Ilkay Gundogan saw an effort stopped by Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez and Bernardo Silva hit the crossbar. More guilty, Raheem Sterling sent an injury time penalty over the bar after Sanchez fouled De Bruyne.
Alexis Mac Allister had perhaps the Seagulls’ best chance to equalize, but he went overboard.
City’s fourth straight league win brought them to third place. Brighton, meanwhile, are winless in nine league games and are just two points ahead of 18th-ranked Fulham, who have two games in hand.
City have not lost since 21 November, when they lost 2-0 at Tottenham, a result that left Pep Guardiola’s team 11th in the Premier League.
However, his form has been excellent since then with 11 wins and three draws in all competitions, and only three goals conceded in that span. In leagues and cups, they have now won seven in a row.
What makes those stats even more impressive is that Guardiola has repeatedly been without key players due to the coronavirus, with goalkeeper Ederson, defender Kyle Walker and forwards Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres among whom have recently missed games.
Against Brighton, City was missing striker Sergio Agüero, the Argentine who isolated himself after contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. With Sterling, Jesus and Torres starting on the bench, De Bruyne acted as a makeshift center forward.
And the Belgian international was at the center of City’s best moves. Sánchez had a shot that saved from a tight angle and then released Mahrez, who could only shoot out.
But just before the break, De Bruyne landed his ninth assist of the season in the Premier League when he slipped a pass to Foden and the 20-year-old English midfielder did the rest, tapping three times to evade Brighton’s defenders and then shooting at Sanchez. .
Mahrez, Gundogan, Silva, Joao Cancelo and De Bruyne all struggled in the first 20 minutes of the second half as City pressed for a second to end the game.
Sterling, who came in in the 82nd minute as Foden’s replacement, shot a penalty in injury time after Sanchez’s awkward foul on De Bruyne.
The City, champions in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and runner-up last time, are back in the fight. They are now just four points behind leaders Manchester United, one game behind their rivals.
Brighton, who have not won in the Premier League since beating Aston Villa 2-1 on 21 November, will be encouraged by their fight but lacked the quality to score a point.
Graham Potter’s side had to wait 40 minutes for their first corner, and then the delivery was poor and City quickly broke with De Bruyne forcing a fine save from Sanchez.
The Seagulls did not have a shot on target until 10 minutes into the second half and that was no trouble for Ederson as Davy Propper’s strike was straight at him.
Percy Tau, making his Premier League debut more than two years after signing for Brighton, set up Mac Allister, who shot narrowly over.
Potter brought on top goalscorer Neal Maupay for Tau for the last 22 minutes, but the Frenchman could not inspire an equaliser.
Manchester City have won their past four Premier League games, as many as they had in their previous 11 in the competition (won four, drew five, lost two).
No side have kept more Premier League clean sheets this season than Manchester City (eight), who also having the fewest goals conceded (13).
Phil Foden scored his eighth goal of the season in all competitions, more than any other Manchester City player.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola told BBC Sport: “We knew how tough it would be. Brighton had a good mentality to play.
“We had a really good first half and had chances. After we missed a really clear chance in the second half, they were better.
“We need to win these sort of games. It is a good lesson for us. Every game will be like this.
“Phil Foden is 20 years old. Look at the stats, the amount of games, the assists compared to the bigger stars in football. He can play both sides, in the middle as a false nine. He is so clever in front of goal. That is why he deserves to play.”
Manchester City match-winner Phil Foden said:
“It definitely feels like we’re back to our best. We’ve taken confidence from the last few results.
“We could have done better but overall I’m very proud of the team. It’s a great result.
“Brighton defended really well and had a good gameplan. To get the goal before half-time was really important. It ended up as the winning goal so I’m delighted.”