MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester City won its 20th straight game in all competitions and opened up a 13-point lead in the Premier League by beating West Ham 2-1 thanks to goals from center backs Ruben Dias and John Stones on Saturday.
Playing less than 72 hours after a Champions League match in Budapest, City produced one of its sloppiest displays in recent months but emerged with its winning run intact as Stones swept in the decisive goal in the 68th minute from Riyad Mahrez’s pass.
Dias, Stones’ partner in central defense, put City in front off a header from a deep left-footed cross by Kevin De Bruyne in the 30th only for Pep Guardiola’s team to concede its first home goal in 2½ months when Michail Antonio equalized just before halftime.
“Some days it doesn’t come off for the forwards, and today me and Ruben chipped in,” Stones said. “That’s part of us being such a good team and the collective. In big games or important games, everyone chips in, maybe sometimes the person you don’t expect.”
It was City’s 14th win in a row in the league — only the sixth time that has been achieved in English top-flight history. Three of those have been attained by City under Guardiola since his arrival in 2016.
Manchester United and Leicester are tied for points as City’s nearest rivals, and both play Sunday.
Guardiola rotated his team, as he promised he would, and included record scorer Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup for the first time in the league since Oct. 24 — coincidentally against West Ham, too.
The injury-plagued Argentina striker lasted only 60 minutes before being taken off and he looked off the pace. He was partially to blame for West Ham’s 43rd-minute goal, too, after losing possession cheaply inside City’s half before the visitors broke forward quickly through Pablo Fornals and Vladimir Coufal.
Jesse Lingard turned Coufal’s cross toward goal and Antonio applied the final touch from close range.
West Ham, in the unusually elevated position of fourth, allowed City few clear-cut opportunities at an empty Etihad Stadium and posed quite a threat at the other end.
Antonio struck the post before his goal, while center back Issa Diop headed narrowly wide in the third and final minute of stoppage time.
“We had to fight right until the last few minutes,” Stones said. “They made it difficult. So, really satisfied.
“We weren’t (playing) our free-flowing football like we have been used to in recent weeks, but that’s how they set up against us. We showed great character in the second half.”
City has won all of its games — across four competitions — since a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion on Dec. 15, which left Guardiola’s side in ninth place in the league at the time. That was the last time City had conceded at home, and even that was an own-goal by Dias.
Antonio became the first opposition player to score a goal from open play against City at the Etihad in 12 league games, since James Maddison of Leicester on Sept. 27.
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