LONDON: Manchester City moved to within touching distance of a fifth English league title after bouncing back from a bitterly disappointing week to beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at Wembley on Saturday.
Defeat for Spurs handed Chelsea a glimmer of hope in the fight for Champions League places after they came from 2-0 down to beat Southampton 3-2, but Liverpool strengthened their position in the top four as Mohamed Salah scored his 40th goal of the season in a routine 3-0 win over Bournemouth.
City blew the chance to seal the title by losing 3-2 at home to local rivals Manchester United last weekend, and were then dumped out the Champions League at the quarter-final stage 5-1 on aggregate by Liverpool in midweek.
However, Pep Guardiola’s men showed why they have been compared with the all-time great teams of the Premier League era by inflicting Spurs’ first league defeat since the sides last met at the Etihad in December.
“I said after 10-15 minutes we will be champions,” said Guardiola of his side’s fast start. “After what happened and how the people reacted, these guys are fantastic. They are awesome, they are incredible.
“What they lived in the last week was so unfair but they deserve (to win the league) and now we have a match ball. We had the first one against United, we could not do it and now we have another one against Swansea with our 60,000 people and we are going to try to be champion.”
City host Swansea next Sunday but could even be confirmed as champions as early as Sunday if United lose at home to rock bottom West Brom.
Gabriel Jesus raced in behind an unsettled Spurs defence to drill home the opener on 22 minutes and Ilkay Gundogan slotted home the second from the penalty spot three minutes later as Hugo Lloris wiped out Raheem Sterling, although replays suggested the contact took place outside the area.
Just like against United last weekend when a 2-0 half-time lead disappeared in 16 minutes, City threatened to let another promising position slip away when Christian Eriksen brought Spurs back into the game just before the break with a bit of fortune when Aymeric Laporte’s clearance ricocheted off the Dane and past the helpless Ederson.
However, this time there was no second-half collapse as City should have ran out even more convincing winners.
Jesus and Sterling passed up huge chances to add to their lead before Sterling — who also missed two great opportunities when City were 2-0 up on United last weekend — finally found the roof of the net after Lloris parried another Jesus effort.
– Salah has the ‘wow’ factor –
City’s Champions League conquerors moved ever closer to sealing their place in the competition next season as Liverpool cruised past Bournemouth with Salah again taking centre stage.
“What a number. Wow!” exclaimed manager Jurgen Klopp on hearing Salah is the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush 31 years ago to score 40 in a season.
“Mo knows what this means and the way we play suits him,” added Klopp. “For him, for the boys, it’s fantastic and today he certainly didn’t look like he doesn’t want to score in the next few games.”
All of Liverpool’s prolific front three were on target as Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino struck either side of Salah’s deft header to take their combined tally for the season to 82.
Chelsea kept their faint hopes of Champions League football next season alive by closing to within seven points of Spurs with a stunning eight-minute fightback to deepen Southampton’s predicament in the bottom three.
Saints led 2-0 with 20 minutes remaining through Dusan Tadic and debutant Jan Bednarek.
However, Olivier Giroud came off the bench to finally kickstart his Chelsea career with his first two Premier League goals for the club either side of Eden Hazard’s leveller.
“As long as it is mathematically possible we will believe we can reach the top four,” said Giroud. “We have got five finals to play, after that we will see.”
Crystal Palace had been set to drop into the bottom three on goal difference prior to Chelsea’s comeback.
However, they now enjoy a six-point cushion over Southampton thanks to a thrilling 3-2 win over Brighton at Selhurst Park with Wilfried Zaha scoring twice.
Huddersfield look well set for a stay up as Tom Ince netted in stoppage time beat Watford 1-0 and open up a seven-point lead on the bottom three.
Swansea couldn’t make home advantage count against Everton, but also opened up a five-point lead on Southampton just above the relegation zone with a 1-1 draw.
At the other end of the table, Burnley closed to within two points of sixth-placed Arsenal as a fast start was enough to secure a 2-1 win over Leicester. – AFP