LONDON: Fuelled by a sparkling attacking display, Manchester City’s players powered to the top of the Premier League for the first time this season and even the opposition are stopping to admire their work.
In a comical exhibit for VAR’s ever-lengthening highlights reel, West Bromwich Albion’s defenders virtually stopped in their tracks and looked on as Joao Cancelo curled a shot into the top corner for the second of City’s goals in a 5-0 rout at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.
After all, the assistant referee had raised the flag for offside moments earlier but City, unlike West Brom, played on as Bernardo Silva collected the ball and fed Cancelo, who unchallenged picked his spot from the edge of the area.
A video review showed Silva was actually onside and the goal was allowed to stand. City were on course to match its biggest league win of the season and, on the evidence of this game and the last couple of months, Pep Guardiola’s team are going to be hard to stop.
“Now, with VAR in these situations, we have to follow the actions until the end because you never know what is going to happen,” Guardiola said. “Is the goal allowed or disallowed? Nobody knows. So you have to continue until the end of the action.”
City have now won 11 consecutive games since West Brom earned a shock 1-1 draw at the Etihad last month as they moved to 41 points from 19 games, one more than Manchester United and significantly seven more than struggling champions Liverpool.
Guardiola’s men did not miss the presence of the injured Kevin De Bruyne in blowing away the Baggies by scoring four goals before half-time.
Ilkay Gundogan opened the floodgates by curling home from the edge of the box before Cancelo’s controversial strike doubled City’s lead.
Gundogan then took his tally to seven goals in his last eight league games before Riyad Mahrez made it 4-0 just before the break.
The only surprise was that City only added a Raheem Sterling goal to their tally in the second half.
“The way we play, everyone is involved in the attack and the play and create chances and try to score chances — it doesn’t matter, it is important to arrive in the box and create chances,” Guardiola said.
West Brom have now conceded 17 goals in Sam Allardyce’s four home games in charge as they remain second bottom of the table, six points off safety.
WEST HAM IN TOP FOUR
While City are threatening to take a stranglehold at the summit, the situation below them remains fluid with West Ham United the latest team to break into the top four.
Two goals from central midfielder Tomas Soucek earned West Ham a 3-2 victory at London rivals Crystal Palace as their fourth successive league win moved them provisionally above Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
The Czech Republic international is proving a solid source of goals for West Ham, having scored seven times in his last 13 league matches.
In a tweet, he dedicated his double to his wife.
“The most beautiful feeling in football is when you realise you have helped your team,” Soucek wrote. “But this time I want to dedicate the win and my two goals to my wife. It’s really tough time for her as she can’t see anyone from the family. Thank you for taking care of me and our daughter!”
The Hammers suffered an early setback when Wilfried Zaha put Palace in front after just three minutes.
But the stronger mentality that Moyes has lauded in West Ham this season showed as Soucek struck twice in 16 minutes to turn the game around.
Craig Dawson headed in Jarrod Bowen’s corner 25 minutes from time to make it 3-1 before Michy Batshuayi scored a late consolation for Palace.
“The players have been exceptional with how they have played, they really have been and they want more,” Moyes said.
ARSENAL GAIN REVENGE ON SOUTHAMPTON
Arsenal avenged Saturday’s FA Cup defeat by Southampton to beat the Saints 3-1 on the south coast — their fifth win in six league games moving them above the Saints and up to eighth in the standings and within five points of the top four.
Mikel Arteta’s side came from behind to win for the first time in a Premier League game this season, having trailed after three minutes to Stuart Armstrong’s sweet strike.
Nicolas Pepe quickly levelled before Bukayo Saka rounded Alex McCarthy and slotted home to give the visitors at half-time lead. Alexandre Lacazette sealed a vital three points 18 minutes from time.
“I think we were good from the start. We conceded a goal from a corner but responded straight away,” said Arteta. “It showed a lot of intelligent and resilience from the team in the way they managed the game.”
The pressure continues to pile up on Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce after they lost 2-1 at home to Leeds United — a defeat that leaves them in 16th place with 19 points, but having played more games than the two sides immediately below them.
“This league is demanding and cruel at times,” said a beleaguered Bruce.
Raphinha put Leeds ahead and although Miguel Almiron levelled, Leeds went ahead again almost instantly through Jack Harrison, leaving Newcastle with only two points from the last 27 available in the league.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2021