Ilkay Gundogan at the double as Manchester City maintain march toward title
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan continued his scoring streak with another two goals as Manchester City edged closer to a fifth Premier League title in six seasons following a 3-0 win over Everton.
Pep Guardiola’s side now only need a maximum of three points from their final three matches to extend their stranglehold on the championship trophy after a straightforward afternoon at Goodison Park
Gundogan took his tally to four in two matches with a brilliant double, one a superbly-executed over-the-shoulder volley and the other an exquisite curling free-kick up and over the wall.
In between Erling Haaland scored his almost mandatory goal to make it 52 for the season, with former Everton centre-forward Dixie Dean’s record of 63 still realistically within his reach.
His 36 league goals is the most in the English top flight since Southampton’s Ron Davies got 37 in 1966-67 and to further underline his quality – were that even required – in 100 league matches for former club Borussia Dortmund and City the Norway international has scored 98 times.
Even a City side registering four changes – Kevin De Bruyne was one of those left out with Wednesday’s delicately-poised Champions League semi-final at home to Real Madrid in mind – was barely tested in registering an 11th successive league victory in an 21-game unbeaten run.
The sight of injury-prone striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin being replaced at half-time would have been of some concern to 17th-placed Everton, who are now relying on neighbours Liverpool to do them a favour and prevent them falling into the bottom three by denying 19th-placed Leicester victory on Monday.
The change could have been precautionary or even a case of damage limitation as there are vital matches coming up against Wolves before a final-day finish at home to Bournemouth.
The worst-case scenario would be facing those two matches without the England international, who, despite only one goal in five games since returning from two-and-half months out with a hamstring injury, has provided a much-needed focal point.
City have no such worries as this game served merely as a semi-competitive training session ahead of the visit of Real, with whom they drew 1-1 in the Bernabeu.
Everton’s deep-lying 4-5-1 formation often left Calvert-Lewin a long way adrift of his midfield, but the hosts came flying out of the blocks, roared on by a Goodison crowd present more in hope than expectation.
However, despite the impressive work-rate of the likes of Dwight McNeil, it was mostly all bluff and bluster as their only real opportunity came in the 34th minute when Mason Holgate blazed over a difficult chance from four yards from James Tarkowski’s knockdown.
Less than three minutes later City were ahead and within seven they had doubled their advantage, with Gundogan at the heart of both goals.
When Riyad Mahrez flicked over a right-wing cross the Germany international took a delicate touch on his thigh before instantly hooking a shot over his shoulder with the outside of his right foot which took marker Nathan Patterson and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford by surprise.
Haaland’s goal was more rudimentary as Gundogan pounced on Patterson’s weak header to cross for the Norwegian to leap higher than makeshift left-back Holgate, in for the injured Vitalii Mykolenko, to head home.
It was only his third touch of the game.
Neal Maupay’s replacement of Calvert-Lewin at half-time reduced Everton’s already slim chances of staging an unlikely recovery and when Gundogan curled home a free-kick after James Garner brought down Phil Foden in the 51st minute the emphasis for the hosts turned to damage limitation.
Toffees boss Sean Dyche decided discretion was the better part of valour and, to protect their slender goal difference advantage over 18th-placed Leeds, he switched to three at the back, with out-of-favour centre-back Conor Coady replacing Holgate and Amadou Onana coming on for Idrissa Gana Gueye in midfield.
Everton’s only genuine goal threat came in the 66th minute when Ederson tipped over a Tarkowski header at a corner.
They will have to do much better against Wolves and Bournemouth if their 69-year stay in the top flight is to be extended.