Five-star City bares title teeth

2021-01-28 12:06:30

Manchester City's Joao Cancelo celebrates scoring their second goal with Rodrigo. [Photo/Agencies] Guardiola's men throw down gauntlet to rivals with swashbuckling display Fueled 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 is 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 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 was 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 is 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." Make it seven straight wins in the league-and 11 in all competitions-for City in an ominous run of results. City became the ninth side to finish a day in first place this season, the most within a single topflight campaign since 1986-87. Even if Manchester United managed to reclaim the lead on Wednesday night by beating Sheffield United, City-on its longest winning run in more than three years-looks to be the team to beat. Ilkay Gundogan netted twice to make it seven goals in the last eight league games for a midfielder who has never been a prolific scorer in his career but has hit a rich vein of form. Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling set each other up for the final two goals. Liverpool and City have battled for Premier League supremacy over the past three seasons. However, the Reds' five-game winless league run has allowed City to open up a seven-point lead over the champion. The Baggies were the last side to take points off the leader with a shock 1-1 draw at the Etihad last month that still was not enough to save Slaven Bilic from the ax. However, the appointment of Sam Allardyce has so far done little to boost West Brom's chances of survival as it remains second from bottom, six points off safety. In four home games since the former England manager took charge, West Brom has conceded 17 goals without reply. City made light of the absence of Kevin De Bruyne with the Belgian expected to be out for at least a month due to a hamstring injury. Phil Foden was denied by a brilliant save by Sam Johnstone even before Gundogan opened the floodgates on six minutes. The German has already established himself as City's major scoring threat from midfield in recent weeks and his sky-high confidence was on show with a curled finish into the far corner from the edge of the area. "When he plays close to the box, he has that sense to make good runs to the box," added Guardiola. "The quality with the ball was always there." Allardyce's men had a tough enough task to find a route back into the game against a side that has now kept 14 clean sheets in its last 18 games without an error from the officials aiding the visitor's cause. Another central midfielder in scoring form is Tomas Soucek, who netted twice for West Ham in its 3-2 win at Crystal Palace that lifted the Hammers to fourth place. 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 realize 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!" Arsenal avenged its weekend FA Cup defeat to Southampton by beating the Saints 3-1 in the league. It was the first time the Gunners had come from behind to win a league game this season, having trailed after three minutes. Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka replied before halftime, and Alexandre Lacazette made sure of the points with a third in the 72nd. AP/AFP