MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Dec 1, (AFP): Raheem Sterling kept up a remarkable personal record against Bournemouth as his goal in Manchester City’s 3-1 win helped the champions move five points clear at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
Sterling struck from close-range in the second half at the Etihad Stadium to restore City’s lead, making him the first player to score in each of his first six Premier League appearances against a single opponent.
The England winger’s fine second-half performance was crucial to securing a sixth successive league victory for the unbeaten leaders, who had produced an uneven display in the first half.
Callum Wilson’s header drew Bournemouth level just before half time, following Bernardo Silva’s opening goal for City.
The visitors proved awkward opponents even as they fell to a fourth successive league defeat, which was sealed by Ilkay Gundogan’s late goal.
This was the first of nine matches across three competitions during December for City and manager Pep Guardiola is aware of the need for rotation to avoid burn-out.
To that end, he gave Gabriel Jesus a first Premier League start for three months and left Sergio Aguero out of the squad altogether, citing a minor muscle problem for the Argentina forward.
That was one of five changes made to the line-up that had started the 2-2 Champions League draw in Lyon four days earlier.
Fernandinho was retained in midfield as captain, even though Guardiola has indicated more than once over the past fortnight that the 33-year-old will need to be rested at some point during the month. For the first 20 minutes, it appeared as if City would get the job done comfortably, despite so many changes.
Bernardo Silva, restored to the team after missing two matches with a minor injury, swept in the opening goal in the 16th minute.
He struck after Leroy Sane darted in from the left, behind the ball-watching Simon Francis, to reach Oleksandr Zinchenko’s pass and forced goalkeeper Asmir Begovic off his line to block.
City had dominated the possession up to that point, without making Begovic work too hard.
Perhaps it was too easy for Guardiola’s side, because they started to get complacent; possession was squandered as passes went astray too easily.
Manchester United’s problems mounted as they escaped with a 2-2 draw at lowly Southampton.
While City remain the team to beat, their rivals United remain in turmoil after their winless league run extended to three games.
Jose Mourinho’s side desperately needed a victory at St Mary’s to stay in the hunt for a top four finish, but they ended up relieved to avoid defeat after falling two goals behind against third bottom Saints.
Southampton had won only once in 13 league matches this season, that solitary success coming at Crystal Palace on Sept 1, yet within 12 minutes they had carved open the United defense.
Mourinho sat stern-faced on the bench as Southampton celebrated and his expression was even more vexed eight minutes later as Marcus Rashford’s needless foul on Mario Lemina led to Southampton’s second.
Cedric Soares lined up the resulting free-kick 20 yards from goal and curled a superb effort over the United wall and into the top corner of De Gea’s net.
Romelu Lukaku gave United a lifeline when he slotted home from Rashford’s pass in the 33rd minute as the Belgian striker grabbed his first goal in 13 games.
United suddenly had a spring in their step and Ander Herrera equalized in the 39th minute when he met Rashford’s low cross with a clever back-heeled effort from close-range.
But seventh-placed United reverted to their spluttering form after the interval and they are now six points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, who would increase that gap if they beat Fulham on Sunday.