Sterling at the double as Manchester City keep title bid on track – BT Sport

Sterling at the double as Manchester City keep title bid on track - BT Sport

Premier League title race: Liverpool & Man City must win remaining games, say managers

That late flurry aside, it was a win devoid of drama – the kind of routine victory the champions seem to specialise in and that leaves onlookers debating the inequalities in the elite division.

How Liverpool would have yearned for Crystal Palace to inflict proper wounds as they had done up in Manchester, rather than merely summoning a free-kick from Luka Milivojevic close to the end that hinted at an unlikely finale.

Sterling continued his blistering form by hitting a brace against the Eagles, as a late Gabriel Jesus strike secured a 3-1 victory and put City back into the driving seat with a game in hand.

Read more There was no concerted onslaught to follow. Once City had regained composure they infuriated home fans by hogging the ball near the corner flags before Gabriel Jesus, marginally offside but permitted to continue on to Kevin De Bruynes slipped pass on the counterattack, scored a third goal in stoppage time to have Pep Guardiola and his staff spilling out in celebration from the dug-out.

Raheem Sterling reflected on his two-goal performance against Crystal Palace by insisting the high standard at Manchester City demands an immediate response to any defeat.

Has Pep Guardiola lost faith in Leroy Sane?

They, like everyone present, knew that anything other than an away win would have been a scandal. This had been a masterclass in the suffocation of opponents through blanket possession and almost the perfect stroll, given that City have a deficit to retrieve in the conclusion of their Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham on Wednesday.

Raheem Sterling, whose goals had set the tone, insisted refuelling was his priority rather than the chance to sit and watch Liverpool take on Chelsea. Im hungry, I need food, he said through a smile.

We always knew coming here in past has proven difficult place to come, we got two goals but knew we couldnt switch off, said the winger.

City were without Fernandinho but hope to have the Brazilian restored against Spurs, and others have found form and fitness to bolster options in a cluttered schedule. Ilkay Gündogan was imperious, pinging passes merrily and utterly unflappable until he and Vincent Kompany messily upended James McArthur on the edge of Citys area to allow Milivojevic his opportunity.

Razor-sharp Sterling gives teeth to Manchester Citys invisible monster

De Bruyne, free at last from injury, was just as incisive whether operating from the flank or centre. The last three or four games hes played, hes been incredible, said Guardiola. Wed missed him a lot. He has that ability and vision that most human beings do not have. He is fresh mentally and in his legs, too.

In big games, games where Manchester City faced a measure of jeopardy, Leroy Sane has been given 90 minutes just once this year. That was on January 3, against Liverpool, where he starred and scored in Citys most pivotal match of the season.

The Belgians delivery tends to be thrilling, the whip and bend to his crosses cutting out backlines, and the weight of pass along the ground immaculate, to leave opposing defenders floundering. His through-balls seem to be almost magnetically drawn to team-mates who collect them in their stride. Sterling had been the early beneficiary, De Bruyne sliding one of those tantalising passes inside Patrick van Aanholt for the forward to chase beyond Scott Dann. The finish was dispatched emphatically across Vicente Guaita and high into the net.

Since then? Full matches merely versus Cardiff, Schalke and Newport. And, despite just one minor injury, a mere 10 starts — only one of those against a top-10 Premier League team — and none away in a European game.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Raheem Sterling scores the opening goal. Photograph: Tony OBrien/Action Images via Reuters Sterling is appreciated in these parts, his recent dedication to Damary Dawkins – a 13-year-old member of Palaces elite player development centre who died last month after a four-year battle with a very rare acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – on scoring for England against the Czech Republic having won him friends. Even this rampaging display will not damage that favourable reputation.

Read more His scuttling runs brimmed with menace and Palace, a team shorn of first-choice centre-halves and saddled by a dreadful home record, never came close to stifling his threat. They might have shipped to him earlier, Gündogan bustling round McArthur to the by-line before pulling back a cross that Sterling, unmarked at the far post, side-footed mystifyingly wide of the upright. In terms of his afternoons work, however, that miss proved exceptional.

All Palace could do was cling to the contest, hoping City would eventually succumb to sloppiness, complacency or fatigue, which never seemed likely. Only the substitute Cheikhou Kouyaté seemed intent on disrupting their rhythm as Christian Benteke, a striker without a goal in open play for 14 months, admirably attempted to unsettle Kompany in the absence of much support.

Raheem Sterling speaks. Coming here is always a difficult one, especially so late in the season, he says. We knew we had to be on it from the first minute and we were. We lost one game – it is not like we have been on a bad run – but that is how high the standards are here. Im just really glad to contribute again today. Manchester City have won each of their last 27 Premier League matches in which Sterling has found the net.

1:10 Guardiola: title is in our hands after Manchester City beat Palace – video Roy Hodgson was torn between committing in pursuit of parity or hanging on until asking his players to rally late. As it was, having survived without further damage until just after the hour, Leroy Sané fizzed a pass across goal and Sterling, having again squeezed space from Van Aanholt, sidefooted a first-time finish with a thud of his boot back across Guaita and in.

41 min: Leroy Sané hangs in a cross to the back post, where van Aanholt is well placed to clean things up. But the Dutchman loses his bearings and, lost inside the box, ends up heading the ball on to the roof of the Palace net. City get the corner, but Kouyaté rushes out to make life difficult. The former West Ham midfielder has at least attempted to force City to work a bit harder since coming on to replace the injured Jeffrey Schlupp.

The gulf between the contenders and the rest can gape at times, for all Palaces defensive resolve and late semblance of a rally. I cant disagree that theres an inequality in the league but I dont know if its a problem: its a fact of life, said Hodgson. In all leagues cream rises to the top. That cream is well fortified by the amount of money available to spend and the quality of the players they can bring in.

48 min: Guaita smothers as Kevin de Bruynes delicious first-time ball into the box causes confusion in the Palace ranks. Martin Kelly swings a foot at it and it cannons off him before the goalkeeper gathers. Sergio Agüero and David Silva were both lurking, but Palace survive. City have certainly started this second half as they finished the first. This is a painful exercise for Palace.

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Those of us who cant get into that group for various reasons – least of all financial – have to accept that and find ourselves playing quite a few games like this where the chances of winning are not great. Youre up against a team who are better than you, who ask too many questions for you to answer.

Well have to win every game if we want to make back-to-back titles, we know that and the players have shown they want to do it. No doubts. Why should I not trust them to continue [handling the nerves]? For a month in the Premier League weve known itd be almost impossible … no, possible but very difficult, to win the title if we dropped points. Weve played with incredible personality in all the games, including the Champions League games.

20 minutes ago Man City boss Guardiola: Sane knows why hes not playing

This was one of those occasions, an exercise at best in containment and hope. As it was, City were in no mood to play ball.

Read more This game was really good after the Champions League defeat because the stage was not easy, said Guardiola, whose sides winning run in the league started at the beginning of February. Weve played every three days [through] December, January and February but, even if we are not fresh, we have the personality for the games. We think Liverpool are going to win all their games but the Premier League is still in our hands.

Liverpools Jurgen Klopp and Manchester Citys Pep Guardiola both believe their sides must win all their remaining games to win the Premier League after the teams matched each other again with victories on Sunday.

Guardiola rules out Hodgson-esque managerial longevity

City beat Crystal Palace 3-1 to retake top spot before the Reds saw off Chelsea 2-0 to leapfrog their rivals.

Dont forget weve had 183 points in two seasons with five games left. Those are incredible numbers, especially in the Premier League, and show how consistent we are. I knew we would produce a good performance here. Now its time to rest and get ready for [the second leg against] Tottenham on Wednesday.

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“We just need to get as many points as possible and if were champions then great, but if not it is still a really good football team.”

Crystal Palace dealt Schlupp blow ahead of Arsenal

City have a game in hand over Liverpool and if they win their remaining five fixtures they will retain their title. However, they have arguably a tougher run-in with matches against Tottenham and Manchester United to come.

No matter. Five minutes later there was silence again but this time Sterling was turning to celebrate. The goal came from a Palace set piece, humped high into the box at the other end. Four touches later it was 1-0, a goal made by a single pass from Kevin De Bruyne, who slid the ball through the Palace cover like an expert crown green bowler taking a moment, sucking on his pipe, then curving his orb through the wreckage to take the jack. Sterling lifted the ball into the far corner with elan. He continues to lead this team from the front.

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Klopp, who has yet to win a trophy with the Reds since becoming manager in 2015, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “The first question in the pre-match team meeting was, what is the City score?. I knew it was 1-0, they said they had no idea but everybody knew.

“But we are human beings, one ear and one eye. It has no influence on us. If they had lost today and we go into the game and think like this then it doesnt help.”

A victory born out of fear, out of walking along with a monster behind you? This is unfair on City, who really are that good. It also overlooks the way Pep Guardiola has made changes since that spell around the turn of the year when his team looked vulnerable. There was a sense that the full-backs had become cavalier, that a quick transition into the space behind could cut City open.

The German added: “What a team, what a stadium, what an atmosphere. Im so thankful I can be a part of this, its great. Its just outstanding, very overwhelming at times.”

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The Reds had found it difficult against a Chelsea side who sat deep until Sadio Mane made the breakthrough in the 51st minute, before fellow forward Mohamed Salah scored a stunning second from 25 yards.

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Asked whether winning their remaining four games would be enough to be champions, Egyptian Salah told Sky Sports: “In my opinion, yes. We just need to focus on our game and we hope that City will lose points.”

The Premier League lead has now changed hands 25 times this season – the second highest number in a season since World War Two.

Guardiolas side dominated Palace for much of the contest at Selhurst Park, with goals from Raheem Sterling giving them a 2-0 lead. Luka Milivojevics late free-kick made it a nervy last 10 minutes for the visitors before substitute Gabriel Jesus ensured victory with a 90th-minute strike.

Crystal Palace 1-3 Manchester City: Raheem Sterling nets double in easy win

The former Barcelona manager added: “We have played with incredible personality in the last two or three months – for the last month weve known that if we drop points it will be more difficult if not impossible to win the title.

“Of course, Liverpool or us could drop points when you dont expect, and football is unpredictable in that sense.

“But we dont have any complaints – we have taken 183 points in two seasons and still have five games left. Those are incredible numbers and show how consistent we are.”

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