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Manchester City reclaim first place as the fierce battle for the title continues

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Liverpool had a short time to enjoy the sight of the league table. Then came confirmation that while overtaking Manchester City was an achievement, to surpass them will be a far greater one.

While Pep Guardiola’s team spent two hours in second place, it took them just five minutes to demonstrate they would regain the status they had held for four months. City’s opener came so quickly that Jurgen Klopp was able to reference it in his post-match interviews following Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Watford at Anfield. Statements of intent are rarely faster and more eloquent.

“To be honest, we’re not talking about our rivals becoming champions,” said Guardiola. Actions conveyed City’s message instead. If City, who were 14 points ahead of Liverpool in January, passed a psychological test when they looked completely unimpressed after being briefly relegated to second place, they showed the assurance of a side who had little to worry about scoring elsewhere.

City finished off Burnley with a performance of graceful dominance. They did it their way: while Klopp has Diogo Jota’s striker potency, City shared the goals and Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gündogan scored. Double salvos were their version of the air approach.

Guardiola argued that the grass at Turf Moor was the longest he had experienced in the Premier League, so City always took the pitch out of the equation. Raheem Sterling was a selfless provider to both, running past, over, and behind Charlie Taylor at will.

“He was crucial in every action,” said Guardiola, who thought the winger had been lifted off as England captain on Tuesday. “I feel like he’s arriving at a really good moment.” His performance was just one finish away, Sterling missing a volley after a wonderful Phil Foden pass, but his cross was more accurate. Burnley’s tight tactics also gave João Cancelo freedom and he was predictably influential, part full-back, part playmaker. In the middle, Rodri drove the game forward, but he will rarely have an easier match.

The Burnley of the cliché, the stubborn opponents frustrating their perceived superiors with their aggressiveness and organization, was nowhere to be seen. Menacingly, they looked rather absent-minded given the growing likelihood of relegation. One such fight, shown by Burnley, was of the wrong breed: Wout Weghorst was lucky to only get away with a yellow card for elbowing Cancelo.

City have long specialized in pushing Burnley aside in more legitimate ways. This was their 10th consecutive win against them and the overall score now stands at 34-1. “They’re a top site put together for hundreds of millions of pounds,” Sean Dyche said mitigatingly before reaching for a positive. “We have 10 games left and they’re all not against Man City.”

Perhaps his miserable record against Guardiola prompted him to change course, abandoning his famous penchant for the 4-4-2 and adding an extra midfielder, but the game was over long before the benched Maxwel Cornet was called at half-time became. Ederson was only tested by substitute Jay Rodriguez’s shot in the 75th minute. In short, however, Dyche may have sensed an early justification. Licensed to break from deep, Josh Brownhill found Aaron Lennon’s cross with a header that almost went into the net from 18 yards out.

After that, Dyche’s plans failed. While Burnley fielded three defensive midfielders, City’s central trio had amassed five shots, all essentially unmarked, in 25 minutes and scored twice. Rodri could have had braces in 10 minutes.

When Rodri angled a deep cross, Taylor Sterling gave too much space to chip De Bruyne away. His finish was emphatic. De Bruyne and Sterling combined again, a one-two that culminated in the England player clearly racing to swing in a cross. Gündogan planned his arrival in the penalty area to cushion a volley past Nick Pope.

The keeper had to excel when Foden improvised a heel shot. Substitute Gabriel Jesus then volleyed it over and hit the post.

“We had chances to do more for the goal difference against Liverpool,” said Guardiola. Instead, wins are enough. “We have to feel the pressure that every game we play, if we lose we’re not going to win, we’re going to be eliminated,” he said. Smiling and relaxed, he seemed barely weighed down by the pressure.

© Observer

https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/premier-league/manchester-city-regain-top-spot-as-ferocious-battle-for-title-continues-41515352.html Manchester City reclaim first place as the fierce battle for the title continues

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