By David Saffer
Manchester City will move 17 points clear of rivals Manchester United in the Premier League title race if they win a home derby clash at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon (4.30pm).
Only a calamitous dip in form can halt City’s canter to the title with 13 games to go.
Pep Guardiola’s champions-elect side warmed up with two victories at home in the past week.
City eased to a 4-1 win against Wolves on Tuesday night after a hard-fought 2-1 win against Champions League chasing West Ham United.
Gabriel Jesus bagged a late brace against The Hammers to seal a 21st successive victory, 15 in the league, after Conor Coady had equalised an own goal from Leander Dendoncker in the first-half.
Riyad Mahrez has been in startling form and completed the scoring deep into stoppage time after VAR ruled his goal onside. West Ham remain in fourth place.
Guardiola told Match of the Day, “We were little bit anxious after 1-1 but we reacted really well after (and) we scored the goals. It was well deserved.”
Regarding the winning streak, he noted, “The record we will talk about in the future. In winter time, November, December, January in England, it is hell! It’s more than remarkable. I’m more than proud but at the same time, Liverpool are the champions. To win the Premier League we need those points.”
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo told Match of the Day, “The boys were solid and compact. The game went by but we were not able to sustain this and we got punished.” He added, “City are very talented, amazing players, amazing manager. All the other teams that come here find it difficult because they are a good opponent.”
City extended their winning run against the Hammers with a John Stones’ second-half strike. David Moyes team equalised through Michail Antonio after Ruben Dias had put the hosts in front.
Manchester United endured a frustrating night against Crystal Palace at Selhurst last night.
Ole Gunnar Solkjaer’s side bossed possession but failed to break down the Eagles in an open clash and were in the end indebted to keeper Dean Henderson for a late save. The result all but ensures Palace’s survival.
The Reds are point ahead of Leicester and seven points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea.
Solskjaer told Sky Sports, “It’s disappointing. We were just a little bit off. If you’re not spot on you won’t win games. Palace always make it hard for you. In the second half we never got going.” He added, “There were times in the first half we built some pressure, had some half decent chances but kept giving it away. Then you don’t build momentum and that’s the game you get.”
On Henderson’s save late on, he noted, “That’s a Man Utd goalkeeper, sometimes you have to keep concentrating. He’s growing in that position. I thank him for one point and not zero.”
Regarding David de Gea’s return, Solksjaer added, “That’s a private matter. It’ll take the time it takes.”
United shared the spoils with the Blues at Stamford Bridge at the weekend.
The visitors felt aggrieved at full time over a first half penalty shout for handball against Callum Hudson-Odoi turned down by referee Stuart Attwell after he checked the incident on a pitchside monitor. Chelsea are unbeaten under Thomas Tuchel and were thwarted by de Gea but the spot kick proved the key incident of the clash.
Solkjaer lamented the loss of two points in the battle for a Champions League place, he told Sky Sports, “We should have had a penalty, 100 per cent. I don’t understand whatsoever, not at all. From here you can see it’s a handball but you think it’s our player who does it. When you look at it on the video it’s two points taken away from us.”
Tuchel told Sky Sports it was a high-quality game between two very strong teams.
Regarding the penalty incident, he commented, “How can this be a VAR intervention? The player in red plays the ball with the hand and then we are checking for a penalty? Why does the referee have to see this? I’ve seen it on the iPad, I don’t understand why the referee has to check it but I’m glad it was no penalty. That would make it even worse.”
Third-placed Leicester City have been hit by injuries but briefly moved level on points with United in the table after a 1-1 draw at Burnley in an early kick off last night.
The Clarets took the lead through Matej Vydra but the visitors hit back through Kelechi Iheanacho.
Both sides had opportunities to win but settled for a draw.
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers told BBC Sport, “I didn’t think we started either half well but the mentality of the team to come back from that was good. In the moments we played and moved the ball I thought we were very good. From a physical perspective we gave everything in the game. I thought once we got going in the second half we looked like the team that could win it but it is OK, a point and we move on.”
The Foxes were disappointing in a 3-1 home defeat to Arsenal at the weekend.
Youri Tielemens opened the scoring for the hosts but the Gunners hit back with a David Luiz header before Alexandre Lacazette slotted home a penalty just before half time after VAR ruled Wilfred Ndidi had handled a Nicolas Pepe strike at goal. Pepe sealed a deserved win just after the break.
Liverpool and Everton are both a point adrift of West Ham in the Champions League top-four battle.
Both are in action tonight, Jurgen Klopp’s side hosting Chelsea while Carlo Ancelotti’s team travel to West Brom who are battling to stay in the league.
The Merseyside giants both paid tribute to Liverpool legend Ian St John who died this week.
St John scored the winning goal in the 1965 FA Cup final against Leeds United, which was the Reds first triumph in the competition.
A Scotland international, St John was a key part of Bill Shankly’s famous team that won two league titles and the FA Cup in the 1960s, scoring 118 goals in 425 appearances. His partnership with 1966 England World Cup hero Roger Hunt was among the best of the era.
Shankly’s side included skipper Ron Yeats and hardman Tommy Smith in a resolute defence.
St John went on to find fame after hanging up his boots in television especially when he teamed up on ‘Saint & Greavsie’ with Tottenham Hotspur and England legend Jimmy Greaves.
Liverpool bounced back to winning ways after four consecutive defeats with a comfortable 2-0 win at Championship bound Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Only the heroics of Blades keeper Aaron Ramsdale kept the score down but he was unable to stop Curtis Jones and Roberto Firmino sealing the win to bring up a landmark 7,000th goal in England’s top-flight league. Only Everton have scored more goals with 7,108.
Klopp told Match of the Day, “We created an awful lot (of chances) and should have been 3-0 up. Andy Robertson could have had a hat-trick. The clean sheet is very important. Adrian showed pure class and character. I’m really happy for him. He was very front-footed. That was a really good game.”
Richarlison scored for a third successive game as Everton backed up a sensational derby win against Liverpool last time out with a 1-0 triumph against struggling Southampton at Goodison Park.
Ancelotti told BBC Sport, “It is an important victory, it was a difficult game, we knew it would be beforehand. We started well and controlled the game. We didn’t concede chances until the last minutes when they put in a lot of effort. We deserved to win.”
Ancelotti praised the performances of Richarlison and England keeper Jordan Pickford who has returned to form after a difficult spell.
In terms of a top-four spot, he told Sky Sports, “To fight for European places we need to improve the home run, this performance and victory can help us have a better run at home. It will be a dream to be in the top four at the end of the season. We are quite close, if we win Thursday (against West Brom), but the decision is long, we have to stay in our goal which is to play Europa next season.”
Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl voiced his concerns at a dreadful run of form to BBC Sport.
“Thirty points are not enough to stay in the league, and we need points and maybe next weekend (versus Sheffield United),” he said. “Every week is an important game.”
Tottenham returned to winning ways and a shot at Europe after a comfortable 4-0 win against Burnley at the weekend and can further progress if they overcome Fulham at Craven Cottage tonight.
Gareth Bale was the star of the show against Burnley with a brace, Harry Kane and Lucas Moura completed the scoring.
The Clarets were fortunate they did not suffer a far heavier defeat such was the hosts dominance.
Jose Mourinho told Match of the Day, “I don’t think it was a performance from another galaxy but we were solid. We needed a game where the players could express themselves against a team that never gives up.” On Bale’s performance, Mourinho noted, “We don’t need the Gareth Bale of five or six years ago. That player wouldn’t be here, he’d be at Real Madrid. He is winning duels and you saw his speed and direction. I’m very happy for him, very happy for the team because the team needs his talent. When his condition is good he can do things like today, his game was very good, not just scoring, changing speeds, going inside.”
Aston Villa are still battling for a European place despite a disappointing 1-0 defeat at 10-man Sheffield United last night following a hard-fought win against Leeds United at the weekend.
David McGoldrick scored the only goal for the Blades, who had Phil Jagielka dismissed for a foul on Anwar El Ghazi, who scored the winner at Elland Road.
Leeds failed to produce their free-flowing football that has seen only four teams score more goals.
Sheffield boss Chris Wilder told BT Sport, “It was everything you want in a performance.
“That was a game like 90% of our games last season.” Regarding Jagielka’s red card, “Not a great decision. I don’t think Villa can ever complain about the decisions that have gone against us in our previous three fixtures. We got on with it and kept the ball out of the back of the net. He was a long way out. I still think (Kean) Bryan is close enough and we had retreating players. I think it’s harsh.
“Some of the decisions, not just for us, but for everyone else are head-scratching.”
In the relegation battle, Newcastle United lamented missed chances as they failed to hold on a hard-fought lead against Wolves. Jamaal Lascelles had nodded the Geordies in front early in the second half only for Ruben Neves to head a 73rd minute equaliser.
Fulham had a chance to move level on points with Newcastle and Brighton, who lost at West Brom in a controversial encounter at The Hawthorns, but had to settle with a goalless draw at Palace.
Scott Parker’s side bossed the game at Selhurst Park but blew a terrific opportunity. However, they are the form side of teams at the wrong end of the table having picked up more points in the past five league games compared to Southampton, Burnley, Brighton and Newcastle.
Sam Allardyce’s West Brom are nine points from safety but defeated Brighton 1-0 in a must-win game at the weekend.
Kyle Bartley scored the only goal in the match which included a farcical moment when Lewis Dunk slotted in a first half free-kick to level the scores only for referee Lee Mason to disallow the goal then award it and then disallow it again after VAR intervened to illustrate he blew his whistle twice.
The visitors rightly protested but could have no complaints as they missed two penalties, Pascal Gross striking the crossbar and Danny Welbeck hitting a post, which would have negated the game’s main talking point.
Baggies boss Sam Allardyce told BBC’s Match of the Day, “I am just laughing about how bizarre this game was. Obviously the most important thing for us was a clean sheet and a corner we converted very well. (There were) lots of chances after that for both teams, we managed to get the one and they managed to not score any of theirs.”
Brighton’s Graham Potter had no excuses, he told Sky Sports, “It is what it is. We’ve not helped ourselves with the two penalties so I cannot put it all down to that (disallowed goal). We need to improve and get better at that (taking penalties). We’re never going to get two better chances. We have to stay calm.”
And so, the relegation bandwagon continues in the coming days with some intriguing encounters.
Southampton and Newcastle travel to Sheffield and West Brom respectively in what could be make or break six-pointers for the bottom two clubs while Burnley and Brighton host Arsenal and Leicester. Fulham have the task of taking on Liverpool at Anfield.
West Brom and Sheffield’s recent wins are probably too late to save them but as Saint & Greavsie used to quip, “football is a funny old game”.