LONDON: Sergio Aguero, initially not one of Pep Guardiola’s favourite players, earned all of Manchester City’s thanks after striking the second-half goal which beat Burnley and kept the Premier champions one point ahead of Liverpool with two games remaining.
City were not at their best. They created few clear openings against a determinedly defensive home side and their frustration and fears were reflected in the delight with which they celebrated Aguero’s 20th Premier goal and 30th in all competitions.
Guardiola had criticised Aguero early in his three-season reign for not contributing enough to the team effort. City’s 30-year-old record marksman heeded the warning.
His all-round contribution, both in and outside the penalty box, has been crucial in keeping City’s title defence alive.
Guardiola said: “We didn’t concede one shot on target or one corner, we are a small team but we are smart. In the first half we didn’t create too much but we knew in these kind of games you play with intention and 92 points is incredible. It is in our hands, we must win our next two games and our next one against Leicester.”
City deserved their 12th successive league victory. Twice in the second half they saw shots cleared off the goal-line and they should have been awarded a penalty for handball against Ashley Barnes which went unseen by referee Paul Tierney.
Barnes, who has an outstanding record of scoring against top six teams, had claimed before the game that he had received an SMS in which Jurgen Klopp promised to buy him if he scored against City. But no luck for Barnes and hence no luck for Klopp.
Liverpool can do no more than focus on winning all their games and finishing on what would be a club record 97 points. They regained, at least briefly, the advantage by defeating Huddersfield with ease by 5:0 on Friday. All the best-paid plans of Terriers’ manager Jan Siewert were wrecked after only 15 seconds when Naby Keita opened the scoring.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scored twice each as Liverpool made a determined effort to narrow the goal difference gap between them and City. Mane’s second goal was Liverpool’s 300th under Jurgen Klopp.
As for Salah, he showed no signs of fatigue after a return flight from New York where he mixed with Game of Thrones stars at a reception marking his appearance on the cover of Time magazine.
Another morale-raising sight was that of England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appearing as a substitute after more than a year out injured. The former Arsenal player might even have scored himself but mishit his shot with only goalkeeper Jan Lossl to beat.
Klopp said: “It’s a good team: 91 points is crazy but it’s only possible because the boys have the attitude they have and keep the mood they are in. That’s so important. At the end, we cannot do more than win these games; that’s what we did so far and that’s what we’ll try to do again.”