MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – Manchester City took a huge step towards retaining the Premier League title as a 2-0 win at Manchester United early yesterday took them a point clear of Liverpool at the top of the table with three games to go.
Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane struck for the visitors in 12 second-half minutes at Old Trafford to inflict a seventh defeat in nine games on United, who remain three points adrift of the top four.
City have now won 11 straight Premier League games and further victories over Burnley, Leicester and Brighton will ensure Liverpool’s 29-year wait to win the title continues no matter what Jurgen Klopp’s men do in their remaining three games.
“We increased the level for the Premier League last season with 100 points. That’s the level Liverpool are chasing. What they have done is incredible but it’s in our hands,” said Guardiola.
“Both teams deserve the title. But it can be just one. The team that is going to lose can’t have regrets because they have given everything.”
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made five changes in response to his side’s 4-0 humiliation at Everton last Sunday and was rewarded with a far more energetic and committed performance even if City’s greater quality eventually shone through.
Yet, Arsenal’s defeat at Wolves means the Red Devils are still very much in the race for Champions League qualification, should they beat fourth-placed Chelsea at home on Sunday.
“They’ve set the standard in the last couple of seasons. They have been the best team in the country and that’s the standard we want to get to,” admitted Solskjaer.
“I’m concerned about the lack of results,” added Solskjaer.
“The strange reality is that we are still in with a shout for the top four. We need more quality on Sunday because we need to win that game and, if we win it, we have two games to get those points and goals we need.”
Guardiola made just three changes from the team that gained some measure of revenge on Tottenham for their Champions League elimination last week, but the decision to recall captain Vincent Kompany seemed a questionable one early on as the Belgian struggled to deal with United’s pace up front.
Kompany was booked for barging Marcus Rashford just 10 minutes in as United enjoyed a bright start.
Paul Pogba tested Ederson from long range before Jesse Lingard’s acrobatic volley from the Frenchman’s cross flew just wide.
United goalkeeper David de Gea’s form has dipped dramatically of late and it was another night to forget for the Spaniard as he could have done better for both goals.
And the differing performances of the two goalkeepers proved key as City stopper Ederson rushed from his goal to make a brilliant challenge at Rashford’s feet as the England striker raced in behind Kompany once more.
Solskjaer has bemoaned United’s fitness levels in recent weeks and again after an early burst, they started to flag as City created a spurt of chances either side of half-time.
“We know what’s been going wrong, it’s mentality and willingness to run for your team,” said United striker Marcus Rashford.
“Forget the top four and the Champions League. We have to get to the bottom of it and start playing like Manchester United for ourselves.”
Firstly, Raheem Sterling shot too close to De Gea after weaving through a host of United bodies inside the area before Sergio Aguero dragged well wide when unmarked at the edge of the box.
Guardiola was forced into an early change in the second-half and showed his intent by replacing holding midfielder Fernandinho with the goal threat of Sane.
And that positivity was instantly rewarded when Bernardo cut inside onto his favoured left foot and beat De Gea at his near post.
Within a minute, City were inches away from doubling their lead when a fine team move teed up Aguero to smash the outside of the post.
United had one huge chance to level when Lingard failed to connect at the far post with the goal gaping.
Sterling led a City counter-attack before feeding Sane, whose powerful shot De Gea could not keep out.
City’s trip to Old Trafford was billed as the last big hurdle left for Guardiola’s men to clear despite United’s terrible run of form.
However, Guardiola warned of the tight turnaround before a very different type of test at Burnley on Sunday.
“Normally with this kind of victory you can it enjoy it the most but we have to be calm,” added Guardiola.
“Now we go to Burnley and we know how tough it will be. It’s important to be calm. We are still not champions with three games left – it’s incredible with the points we have and Liverpool have.
“I told the players don’t read tomorrow, don’t watch the television, just rest and sleep a lot.”