Title race to go down to the wire: Sterling

Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling scoring from an acute angle to give the Premier League defending champions the lead in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park yesterday.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling scoring from an acute angle to give the Premier League defending champions the lead in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Early miss fails to deter forward as his brace sinks Palace to put pressure back on Reds

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Crystal Palace 1
Manchester City 3

LONDON • Manchester City will not let up. There was a period near the end when the Premier League champions endured something akin to pangs of anxiety as Crystal Palace pressed fitfully for an unlikely equaliser.

How Liverpool must have yearned for more wounds to be inflicted by City's hosts than Luka Milivojevic's free kick, belted inside the post nine minutes from time to halve the deficit at Selhurst Park.

As it was, City substitute Gabriel Jesus, collecting from Kevin de Bruyne on the counter, would slide a third goal inside Vicente Guaita's near post in stoppage time to seal a 3-1 win.

It was a win devoid of drama. It was a masterclass in the suffocation of a team by blanket possession and the perfect stroll, given City have a 1-0 deficit to overcome in the their Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham on Wednesday.

Said City manager Pep Guardiola, an avid golfer: "Now it's time to rest, take the bus, one ear to Liverpool-Chelsea and another for the Masters with Molinari-Woods."

Raheem Sterling, whose two goals had established City's dominance, was not certain he would watch former club and title rivals Reds, saying: "I'm hungry. I need to eat food - will see how it goes."

His form remains untouchable, his scuttling running full of menace. Palace, a team shorn of first-choice centre-halves and saddled by a dreadful home record, never came close to stifling his threat.

He had already scuffed a shot wide of a gaping net when found unmarked in front of goal by Ilkay Gundogan's pull-back.

Palace had been breathing a sigh of relief to have won a free kick in the visitors' half, only for the ball to be repelled and channelled up-field at such pace.

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    Leroy Sane has now registered 17 assists in all competitions this season, the outright most by any Premier League player in 2018-19.

De Bruyne, permitted to advance to the halfway line, slid through the sumptuous pass inside Patrick van Aanholt onto which Sterling sprinted. Scott Dann was in no position to overhaul the forward, with the finish dispatched emphatically across Guaita and high into the net.

Other chances were passed up, though the dominance was permanent. The German midfielder Gundogan had been imperious, dictating play in the absence of the injured Fernandinho, although the Brazilian should be fit for Spurs.

All that was missing was breathing space in the scoreline, which Sterling eventually supplied just after the hour.

Palace had been pulled out of position by the latest flurry of clipped passes and subtle movement, with Leroy Sane fizzing in a pass across goal which the forward, untracked by van Aanholt, side-footed first time with a thud of his boot across Guaita and into the far corner.

Sterling said the early glaring miss had not upset him unduly.

"When I was younger, you always want to score your first opportunity and sometimes it doesn't happen like that," he said. "You don't beat yourself up. There's 80 minutes left, you just have to be ready for the next opportunity."

He did not let up, even after the match, saying the title race will go down to the wire.

"100 per cent the way Liverpool have been playing," he told the BBC. "I don't see us slowing down now. Liverpool have a great squad, great self-belief, but so do we."

Guardiola told Sky Sports: "This pressure is incredible. We are fighting to be champions back to back.

"In two seasons, we've got 83 points with five games left. We've won two titles (Community Shield and League Cup) and now it's the FA Cup final."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Title race to go down to the wire: Sterling'. Print Edition | Subscribe