Man City ease by Aston Villa, close gap at the top

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Manchester City beat Aston Villa 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday as Pep Guardiola‘s side cut the gap to league leaders Liverpool to three points.

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The reigning Premier League champs scored three times in the second half as Villa were stubborn but barely threatened in attack. Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne (it looked like David Silva got the final touch) and Ilkay Gundogan grabbed the goals for City as they won with minimum fuss. Fernandinho was sent off for a second yellow card, which means he will miss the League Cup game against Southampton in midweek.

Man City now have 22 points from their opening 10 games of the season, while Villa remain on 11 points.


3 things we learned

1. Sterling’s incredible season continues: Sterling has scored 13 times in 14 appearances in all competitions so far this season. That is an amazing start for the winger. Sterling’s ability to finish chances has improved dramatically and he’s even angry at himself for not scoring or creating more. He is now so efficient in the final third and was so dangerous as Villa didn’t know what to do with him.

2. Man City put the pressure on Liverpool: A few weeks ago City were out of the title race and everyone was handing the trophy to Liverpool. If Jurgen Klopp‘s men slip up against Spurs on Sunday, their lead atop the table could be cut to three or four points. Man City look comfortable at being the hunters, just as they proved last season. It almost helps Guardiola’s men as they crank through the gears and there is extra intensity to their game. City would love to be leading the PL but after their shock defeat against Wolves they have responded well.

3. Villa will be top 10 contenders: They kept City out for 45 minutes but one lapse in concentration cost Aston Villa. Dean Smith will be disappointed with that but he knows that getting points against Man City this week and Liverpool next week would a be a bonus. The newly-promoted side look capable of taking care of business against teams in the bottom half of the table and Villa look set to challenge for a top 10 finish.

Man of the Match: Raheem Sterling – His incredible goalscoring exploits are backed up by his dangerous runs, passes and movement in the final third. He is in the form of his life and driving City on. Superb display.


Man City should have taken the lead as Sterling and David Silva set up the chance and Jesus fired a shot inches wide.

Sterling’s shot then deflected off Bjorn Engels arm and wide and although the home players appealed for a penalty kick, VAR checked and waved the calls away.

On the break Aston Villa almost took the lead as John McGinn curled a powerful shot towards the bottom corner which Ederson saved and on the rebound VAR was used as Douglas Luiz claimed he was taken down by a combination of Fernandinho and Joao Cancelo.

Villa then appealed for another penalty kick as Trezeguet’s was blocked by John Stones but nothing was given, and at the other end Sterling flicked a header just wide after good play from Benjamin Mendy and Silva.

David Silva went close just before the break as he somehow put his shot wide after Sterling’s trickery, as Villa left City frustrated.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

It took 30 seconds of the second half for City to take the lead as Ederson’s clearance was flicked on by Jesus and Sterling finished to make it 1-0. Easy.

Mendy then had a shot across goal deflected wide as City piled on the pressure, the Engels gave the ball away and Jesus’ shot was saved by Heaton then somehow cleared off the line by Mings.

Villa remained dangerous on the break but City wrapped up the win as De Bruyne’s cross seemed to flick off David Silva’s foot and after a lengthy VAR check with Sterling close to touching the ball from an offside position, the goal stood. 2-0.

Gundogan made it 3-0 soon after as KDB’s corner was kept alive by Fernandinho who whipped the ball across goal and the German midfielder finished in style. Game. Set. Match.

Late on Fernandinho was sent off for picking up a second yellow card, while substitute Phil Foden twice went close, Jesus hit the bar and McGinn hit the post in a wild finale.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”

WATCH: Luis Suarez delivers one-of-a-kind back-heel goal

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At 32 years of age and with a 15-year career behind him, Luis Suarez has scored some emphatic goals.

On Saturday, however, he painted a fine piece of art, a goal that became an instant classic the moment the ball came off of his backheel. With Barcelona already up 3-1 against RCD Mallorca, Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to push forward, comfortably and strategically ping-ponging the ball around the defensive-oriented visitors.

And then Frenkie de Jong found the ball at the top of the box.

The Dutch international smoothly placed a through ball, finding Suarez, who with precision and expertise that only he has, belted the ball into the bottom-right corner of Manolo Reina’s goal.

It’s only December, but the Uruguayan’s goal is an automatic La Liga goal of the season contender: