Ilkay Gundogan scored twice for the second successive game as Manchester City moved to within six points of the Premier League title with a comfortable 3-0 win at Everton.
Erling Haaland’s header — his 36th league goal this season — sandwiched Gundogan’s brace of goals, and City could even win the title against Chelsea at the Etihad next Sunday if Arsenal drop points against Brighton & Hove Albion or Nottingham Forest beforehand.
– When can Man City win the Premier League title?
But while City edged closer to the title, defeat leaves Everton deep in relegation trouble. A win for Leicester City at home to Liverpool on Monday would see Sean Dyche’s team drop back into the bottom three.
1. Man City enjoy perfect warmup for Real Madrid
City manager Pep Guardiola had complained about his team having to face Everton on Sunday, while Champions League opponents Real Madrid benefitted from the extra rest of playing Getafe a day earlier. But by the end of the game at Goodison Park, City had the perfect preparation for Wednesday’s semifinal second leg.
Guardiola’s team edged closer to completing the first leg of a potential treble by beating Everton with goals from Gundogan and Haaland, and they also emerged without injury concerns. Even if Arsenal continue to win their Premier League fixtures, this win meant that City need just six points to seal their third successive title. With City also boasting a significantly better goal difference than the Gunners, one win and two draws from their remaining three games will almost certainly be enough to be crowned champions.
Three games to win the title, two victories from Champions League success and Manchester United awaiting in the FA Cup final. The treble really is beginning to zoom into view for City, and Wednesday’s clash with Real looks like being the biggest obstacle they will have to clear.
City were forced to play on Sunday because Liverpool hosted the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, and the authorities ruled out this fixture being played on the same day just a couple of miles away. His issue was that Real would have longer to prepare, but it was a hollow argument considering that the Spanish team, 11 points behind Barcelona in the La Liga title race, were able to rest eight key players. City had no such luxury due to Arsenal pursuing them in the Premier League, but they still managed to coast through without too much stress.
They are six games from the Treble and it is beginning to look easy for Guardiola and his players.
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2. Is it too late to keep Gundogan?
Gundogan’s City contract expires at the end of this season, and the Germany international has shown no inclination towards signing a new deal . After seven years in Manchester, the 32-year-old reportedly has an offer from Barcelona to move to Spotify Camp Nou as a free agent. It seems inevitable that he will leave City this summer.
The former Borussia Dortmund player has been a key figure during Guardiola’s time as coach, and it would be foolish of City not to to make one final attempt to keep Gundogan. His form this season has been outstanding. After scoring both goals in last week’s 2-1 win against Leeds, he was also the match winner at Goodison Park with two goals and an assist. His first goal was technically brilliant, controlling the ball on his thigh before improvising to beat Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal.
There are few better examples than Gundogan of the perfect modern footballer. He can play in a variety of positions — defensive midfield, attacking midfield and even as a false No. 9 — and he is a model of consistency. But sometimes, a player wants a new challenge and if Gundogan is tempted by the chance to move to LaLiga with Barcelona, who can blame him?
You can bet that Guardiola will try to persuade him otherwise, though.
3. Two games for Dyche to save Everton
This game was over by half-time — you could even argue it was over the moment City went ahead due to their current form — and Dyche took a pragmatic view of his team’s prospects by writing off the second half.
Dyche substituted centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin at half-time and then withdrew midfielder Idrissa Gueye on 56 minutes, because he knows that both players will be crucial for the big battle facing his team — avoiding relegation.
Everton go into their final two games, against Wolverhampton Wanderers and AFC Bournemouth, knowing that they may already be safe on 32 points, but the likelihood is that they will need to win at least one of those to stay ahead of Leeds United and Leicester. They may even have to win both. So with Everton having a minimal chance of overturning a 2-0 half-time deficit to beat City, Dyche opted to keep his key players fresh for the final two games.
Calvert-Lewin’s prolonged absence due to injury this season is a big factor in Everton’s predicament, so Dyche desperately needs the England forward to be available for the final two matches. He was impressive during his 45-minute appearance against City, but Calvert-Lewin was never going to keep Everton up against Guardiola’s side. It’s what he can do in the next two weeks that will matter.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Ilkay Gundogan — The City midfielder always delivers for Guardiola, regardless of whether he has been a regular or merely asked to step in. A class act.
BEST: Dominic Calvert-Lewin — Incredibly tough job to take on the entire City defence and provide an outlet for his under-siege team, but the Everton forward gave the Toffees some hope before City went ahead.
BEST: Dwight McNeil — Everton will need tenacity and commitment to avoid relegation and the former Burnley winger gave an example of what Dyche will demand from his players in their final two games.
WORST: Mason Holgate — Missed a golden chance to put Everton ahead on 35 minutes. Two minutes later, City scored the opening goal and that was the end of Everton’s hopes of getting a positive result.
WORST: Alex Iwobi — The former Arsenal midfielder had plenty of the ball in the first-half, but he failed to make it count when in City territory.
WORST: James Garner — Had a great season helping Nottingham Forest win promotion from the Championship last year, but the midfielder lacks quality at this level and it showed against City.
Highlights and notable moments
After the match: What the players/managers said
“It was a good victory,” Guardiola told Sky Sports. “From the first minute we did really well. Every time we win a game we’re a bit closer but Chelsea and Brighton will be tough games.
“We were patient. We expected maybe high pressing [from Everton] but they didn’t do it. They can be good in transition, as we saw against Brighton, and every corner looks like it’ll be a goal for them. But in general we controlled it really well and scored at the right moments.
“We’ve done our duty by beating them [Arsenal] at the Etihad. Both teams have had an exceptional season. It was good to win between the Real Madrid games. Now we know two wins from the last three games will be enough.”
Dyche told Sky Sports: “I thought we were excellent for 30 minutes, but they showed what a class side they are. They were slow in passing it in front of us, which was fine by us. But they changed their game plan and went longer. They picked up the scraps and capitalised on it. They showed what a top side they are because they can score goals in different ways.
“We tried to counter and break well, which we did at times, but all of a sudden we were 2-0 down and it’s very difficult from there on in.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Erling Haaland scored his seventh headed goal of the season, second most in Europe’s top-five leagues (trails only Harry Kane with 10).
– Gundogan scores back-to-back league braces for the third time in his career, all with Man City.
– Man City are now 14 Premier League matches without a loss, the longest active unbeaten streak in Europe’s top five leagues.
Everton: The Toffees have two games remaining to save their Premier League status. First up, they travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, then they host AFC Bournemouth on the final day, May 28.
Manchester City: Real Madrid travel to the Etihad on Wednesday in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal, with the tie poised at 1-1. Then on May 21, it’s Chelsea who will travel to face the Premier League leaders.
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