MANCHESTER, England (AP) — As an excitable Pep Guardiola congratulated his players one by one in the center of the field, a chant of “Champions” rang out from the Manchester City fans in one corner of an otherwise-deserted Old Trafford.
Three more victories and City will indeed be a Premier League winner once again.
A 2-0 win over fierce rival Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday allowed City to climb over the biggest obstacle on its way to retaining the title, a feat no team has achieved in a decade. Beat Burnley away, Leicester at home and Brighton away, and Guardiola’s team will make yet more history.
City moved a point ahead of Liverpool in an oscillating title race in which neither of the two protagonists is backing down. Neither side has dropped points since Liverpool drew 0-0 at Everton on March 3, and City is on an 11-match winning streak in the league.
City’s class of 2018-19 has reached new levels of scoring, too. Thanks to second-half strikes by Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane, City has now scored 157 goals in all competitions for the season — beating the English record for a single top-flight campaign that the team held from the pre-Guardiola era in 2013-14.
While City is arguably getting better, United is seemingly regressing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This was a seventh loss in United’s last nine games, with five of them coming in the six matches since Solskjaer was given the full-time job at Old Trafford following an impressive spell in interim manager.
With doubts emerging about the desire and attitude of some of its players, United is set to end the season without qualifying for the Champions League, potentially making Solskjaer’s attempts to rebuild the team this offseason even harder.
United is in sixth place — two points behind Arsenal, three behind Chelsea and six adrift of third-place Tottenham — and would drop out of top-four contention with a loss to Chelsea on Sunday.
Arsenal gave United some hope by losing 3-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers in Wednesday’s other match. It is the first time Arsenal has lost back-to-back matches in the league since the opening two games of the season.
DE GEA CUPLABLE
David De Gea has won plenty of games for United almost single-handedly in recent years but the goalkeeper was possibly at fault for both of City’s goals in a derby that became one-sided after a tight first 30 minutes.
The Spain international was slow to get down to Bernardo Silva’s 54th-minute shot that crept inside the near post and then failed to keep out Sane’s powerful shot that virtually went straight at the legs of De Gea. Last week, De Gea let a shot from Lionel Messi slip through his grasp in a heavy Champions League loss at Barcelona.
“In times like this, it’s not time to point fingers or blame anyone,” Solskjaer said. “We have to stick together.”
Solskjaer did, though, make it abundantly clear that United’s performances aren’t good enough for a club of its stature.
“You can’t linger along,” he said, “because the Premier League is so competitive that suddenly you’ll be caught up by other teams as well.”
City saw Fernandinho hobble off with a muscle injury early in the second half, while Ilkay Gundogan battled through the second half after getting hurt by a fierce challenge by Jesse Lingard.
Next up for City, which is on a punishing run of a game every three or four days, is one of the most physical teams in the Premier League.
“I know people are going to say how pretty we are, how handsome we are,” Guardiola said. “But now we have to go to Burnley!”
Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and now Arsenal have all been beaten at Molineux this season. Man City only left the stadium with a point.
It has been some return to the Premier League for Wolves, which is on target to finish the so-called “best of the rest” in seventh place.
Wolves took advantage of several defensive mistakes by Arsenal to score first-half goals through Ruben Neves, Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota and earn a first league win over Arsenal in 40 years.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos headed in a late consolation goal for Arsenal but Unai Emery’s side has won just six times on the road this season and is now one point behind Chelsea in fifth ahead of another tough away game at Leicester on Sunday.
Arsenal’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League might be through winning the Europa League, where the team is through to the semifinals.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80