MANCHESTER, January 21: Bernardo Silva fired Manchester City to a 2-0 win against Aston Villa in the Premier League on Wednesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side found it hard work to pierce Villa’s stubborn defence at the rain-lashed Etihad Stadium.
Silva finally made the breakthrough with 11 minutes left with his first Premier League goal since July.
Villa boss Dean Smith was sent to the stands after a furious complaint that Rodri should have been given offside in the build-up to Silva’s goal.
Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty ensured City made it nine successive wins in all competitions as they extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches.
They move above previous leaders Leicester on goal difference, but Manchester United would take over top spot if they win at Fulham later on Wednesday.
After a spluttering start to the season, City, last crowned champions in 2019, are hitting their stride at just the right time.
Plagued by defensive problems last season, they have been rock solid this term, conceding only once in the 11 matches John Stones and Ruben Dias have played together at centre-back.
The only worry for Guardiola was the sight of Kevin De Bruyne coming off in the second half with a possible injury after Kyle Walker limped off in the first half.
A significant coronavirus outbreak at Villa meant their first team had not played since they lost to Manchester United on New Year’s Day, with the club fielding a youth side for their FA Cup defeat against Liverpool.
Villa had only three days of training before facing City and put up a brave fight before fading at the end.
With Sergio Aguero still in self-isolation and Gabriel Jesus on the bench, Phil Foden came into the front three in a move that left City without a recognised striker.
Silva started in the false nine role and the Portugal playmaker should have opened the scoring in the fourth minute.
When Rodri’s header looped towards him, Silva’s effort from virtually on the goalline was brilliantly saved by Emiliano Martinez before Matt Cash threw himself in the way of John Stones’ shot from the rebound.
Smith had joked it was “nice to be out of the house” as he named all his returning stars, including Ross Barkley after two months out with a hamstring injury.
But Smith might have wished he was back on the sofa as Guardiola’s men monopolised possession, with Foden and De Bruyne having shots blocked.
With Foden in fine form, City kept up the pressure, but another mazy run from the youngster ended with Rodri’s goalbound shot hitting Raheem Sterling instead of the back of the net.
Villa finally came out of their shell as Barkley’s curling strike from the edge of the area tested Ederson.
Gundogan went close with a curler, while Bertrand Traore’s outrageous control took him into range for a strike that Ederson pushed away.
As the game became more open, City defender Joao Cancelo made an incisive raid into the Villa area before shooting against the bar.
When De Bruyne pulled up sharply, Guardiola sent on Jesus with half an hour left.
Villa nearly snatched the lead as Douglas Luiz’s 20-yard blast was repelled by Ederson.
Gundogan’s close-range shot was superbly stopped by Martinez, but City finally grabbed their controversial winner in the 79th minute.
Rodri, coming back from an offside position, nicked the ball off Tyrone Mings and found Silva on the edge of the Villa area.
Silva twisted into space before curling a fine finish into the top corner.
In stoppage-time, Jesus had a header blocked by Cash’s hand and Gundogan stepped up to convert the spot-kick.
Paul Pogba stunner sends Manchester United on top with win at Fulham
Paul Pogba struck another crucial blow for Manchester United in the Premier League title race with a stunning second-half strike to put his side back on top of the table with a 2-1 victory at Fulham on Wednesday.
The rejuvenated French midfielder arrowed home an unstoppable shot past Fulham keeper Alphonse Areola to settle the contest in the 65th minute at a windy Craven Cottage.
Fulham had actually taken the lead in the fifth minute when Ademola Lookman beat David de Gea with a clinical finish.
But United awoke from their early slumbers and were level after 21 minutes when Areola’s fumble allowed Edinson Cavani to convert from a close range.
United suffered a late scare when Aleksandar Mitrovic’s header deflected off Eric Bailly by went agonisingly wide but United hung on for an eighth away win of the season.
In doing so they equalled a club record of 17 away top-flight games without defeat, although more significantly it saw them move two points clear of Manchester City to lead the table at the halfway stage for the first time in eight years.
City had briefly topped the standings after beating Aston Villa 2-0 earlier on Wednesday. Leicester had knocked United off the top with a 2-0 win over Chelsea on Tuesday.
It was club record signing Pogba’s goal last week at Burnley that sent United to the top, and he again demonstrated that when he is fit and focussed he can be an unstoppable force.
“Fantastic goal by Paul and we had some other chances to finish the game but of course when it is just one goal and the players they put on it is going to be like heart in your mouth,” manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said of the player who has only sporadically shone for United since returning in 2016.
“Paul has really come on. He is fit, he can play in midfield and he can play wide. That is key with Paul, getting him match fit and running fit and he is now. He played very well.”
After City had claimed a sixth successive league win shortly before United kicked off alongside the River Thames, the pressure was on Solskjaer’s side to respond.
The early signs were worrying as Scott Parker’s Fulham were far quicker out of the traps.
They took the lead after a long spell of possession which ended with Andre Anguissa’s pass picking out Lookman to plant a shot past De Gea with United’s defence having switched off, awaiting an offside flag that never came.
The visitors soon clicked into gear though and moments after Bruno Fernandes had thumped a shot against the post he swung in a low cross that Areola flapped at and Cavani tapped home.
Areola redeemed himself with a great save from Fernandes and Harry Maguire also headed wide as United took charge.
Fulham enjoyed another bright spell early in the second half with Lookman presented with a great chance after good work by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, only to shoot straight at De Gea.
United looked the more likely winners though and after 65 minutes Pogba took matters into his own hands. Cutting in from the right he had only one thing on his mind and dispatched a left-foot shot that flew past the helpless Areola. (AFP/Reuters)