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Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Pellegrini’s men grab upper hand for title (video)

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With Liverpool’s crushing loss to Chelsea at Anfield, a door opened for Manchester City, and they took it in convincing action.

Three points for City at Selhurst Park with a comprehensive 2-0 win over in-form Crystal Palace sees Manuel Pellegrini and company move to within three points of Liverpool with a game in hand.

Word of the Anfield result reached Manchester City just before coming out of the tunnel, and it clearly gave them a boost as Edin Dzeko put them up in just the fourth minute, and they never looked back.

The early goal actually wasn’t the first clear chance for Manchester City. Just minutes into the game, James Milner found an overlapping Pablo Zabaleta, but the wing-back’s cross into the box didn’t find any black shirts in a good area.

But just two minutes later, Dzeko found his header, off a cross from Yaya Toure, and Manchester City were well and truly into the lead.  It was Dzeko’s 22nd goal of the season, and the City attack looked like they wouldn’t at all miss the injured David Silva and Jesus Navas.

City looked for more, but they would get fewer and fewer chances as Tony Pulis instilled a very physical presence into the midfield.  Damien Delaney earned himself a booking for a hard foul, and more Palace players caught the ire of referee Howard Webb.

Palace used that play to get themselves back into the game, and while there weren’t any clear chances on goal, they built themselves up some confidence and possession.

Manchester City came very close to a second with 10 minutes to go before halftime, but Zabaleta’s pass into the box for a wide-open Yaya Toure was too slow, and the opportunity closed before it ever reached the Ivorian.

Frustration began to brew for the visitors, and Zabaleta himself earned a yellow card for a frustration foul on

source: AP
Pablo Zabaleta did yeoman’s work down the right flank and had a hand in multiple chances for Manchester City.

With the aforementioned Navas and Silva out, City received a potentially big blow before the break, as Samir Nasri went down under a heavy challenge and limped his way off the pitch, but managed to come back on.

With Nasri back on the pitch, City would double their lead before halftime, this time on the break. Nasri played a one-two with a streaking Yaya Toure down the right flank.

With the sprinting giant usually known for his entrenching midfield passes and exquisite distance shots, his massive strides moving his body quickly down the touchline was quite a sight to see. Toure was dispossed in the box by Delaney, but the ball came back to him, and the midfielder slotted through for City’s second.

The second half featured more of a midfield battle with few chances, but Crystal Palace had precious few chances in the final third, and struggled to get past a physical City midfield while their passing was less than accurate.

James Puncheon, who had been brilliant through Palace’s five-match winning streak, was stuck on the right touchline with little freedom, and his passing was a poor 19/26 (73%), 8/14 in the final third.

The visitors looked and searched for a third, nearly finding it with 15 minutes to play but Alekander Kolarov’s low cross went untouched in the box, evading a pair of Manchester City attackers.

For Manchester City, they now have the same maximum possible points as Liverpool, with an eight-goal advantage on differential.  The Citizens control their own destiny, although they still have to face Everton, Aston Villa, and West Ham.

The home side sees their five-match winning streak come to an end, but they are still firmly entrenched in their Premier League future, in 11th position and holding.

LINEUPS:

Crystal Palace – Speroni; Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie (Ince 74′), Puncheon; Chamakh (Gayle 69′), Jerome (Murray 69′).

Manchester City – Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; Milner, Garcia, Toure (Fernandinho 66′), Nasri; Dzeko (Negredo 88′), Aguero (Jovetic 78′).

Goals: Dzeko 4′, Toure 43′

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.

Chicharito sidelined two weeks with muscle injury

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 04:  Javier Hernandez of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Roma and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Olimpico Stadium on November 4, 2015 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Bayer Leverkusen must move forward without their top talisman as Javier Hernandez is out with a muscle injury.

The Mexican international was forced off in the second half of Leverkusen’s midweek loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup.

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Hernandez scored in that Werder Bremen match before getting injured, as the striker has now scored a remarkable 20 goals in his last 18 appearances for Leverkusen.

With a torn muscle fiber in his left glute, Leverkusen boss Rogers Schmidt announced Chicharito could be out for two or even three weeks.

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Including this weekend’s match at Darmstadt, Hernandez will likely miss both matches against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as well as a huge Bundesliga clash with Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.