LONDON: Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling struck twice as the Premier League champions beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park on Sunday to go top of the table and heap pressure on title rivals Liverpool.
Victory left Pep Guardiola’s side on 83 points from 33 matches, one point above Liverpool who were playing Chelsea later on Sunday.
The victory was the ninth straight win for City in the Premier League, and the champions know they will keep the trophy if they win their remaining five games.
“We think Liverpool is able to win all the games,” said Guardiola. “In the Premier League the position is in our hands and we need to win all the games. There is no other chance if we want to make back-to-back [titles].”
The trip to south London kicked off a massive week for City with Tottenham Hotspur to visit the Etihad Stadium twice in the next six days for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final and a vital Premier League clash with implications for both the title and top four race.
City must overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit against Spurs to progress to the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday. Yet, Guardiola’s starting line-up seemed stronger than the one he named in defeat to Mauricio Pochettino’s men in midweek.
Having missed an easy chance early on, Sterling put City ahead in the 15th minute when he ran on to Kevin De Bruyne’s inch-perfect pass from behind the halfway line and fired past goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.
The England international added a second for his 17th league goal of the season after the break, meeting Leroy Sane’s first-time cross into the box with a calm left-footed finish that wrong-footed Guaita as it rolled in.
Palace ensured an entertaining finish to the contest when Luka Milivojevic scored from a free kick with nine minutes to go after midfielder James McArthur was brought down on the edge of the penalty area.
City, however, sealed the deal with their third of the match as De Bruyne latched on to a poor pass from defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka before feeding substitute Gabriel Jesus who finished emphatically.
“We controlled the ball really well but one moment in the game and they are back in it. But we responded again and got the third goal,” said Sterling, who added his belief that the title race will go down to the wire. “It will go down to the wire. I don’t see us slowing down now. Liverpool have a great squad, great self-belief, but so do we.”
POGBA PENALTIES SAVE UNITED
In Saturday’s late match, two Paul Pogba penalties earned a lethargic Manchester United a 2-1 victory over West Ham United and lifted them above Arsenal into fifth place, two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
United had lost four of their previous five games in all competitions and were extremely fortunate to get back to winning ways as West Ham had a goal ruled out for offside, hit the crossbar and saw David de Gea make a wonder save to deny Michail Antonio giving them a late lead.
“They played better than us, it is fair to say, I don’t think anyone will disagree,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after his side secured only a second win in their last six matches in all competitions. “We got away with it, sometimes we have lost when we should have won, so over a season it evens itself out.”
United were gifted a first-half lead when Robert Snodgrass’s clumsy challenge brought down Juan Mata and Pogba sent his first spot-kick down the middle of the goal.
West Ham were deservedly level four minutes into the second half when Felipe Anderson turned home at the back post, and the visitors went on to enjoy the better of the chances.
Antonio crashed a shot from range off the bar before De Gea produced a stunning save to claw the West Ham forward’s header to safety.
Within seconds of being saved by their captain, United had a second penalty 10 minutes from time when Ryan Fredericks chopped down Anthony Martial, and this time Pogba buried his penalty into the bottom corner.
“I think we had the luck,” said Pogba. “You always have to take it.”