Manchester City shrugged off the ambiguity of a series of Premier League matches to move within three points of Arsenal at the top of the table with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Monday (AEDT).
A cloud hangs over the English champions after the Premier League hit the club with more than 100 charges of allegedly breaching financial rules dating back to 2009.
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If found guilty, City could face a severe points deduction or even relegation from the First Division.
But City manager Pep Guardiola came swinging in defense of the club’s hierarchy as he pointed the finger at his jealous Premier League rivals over the accusations and his players followed suit with displays of defiance on the pitch.
Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez all struck before half-time at Al Ittihad to ominously beat Arsenal’s rear-view mirror ahead of their clash on Wednesday.
Arsenal still have a game in hand, but City will now move to the top of the table if they win at the Emirates in midweek.
A 1-1 draw at home to Brentford on Saturday opened the door for City and unlike last weekend, when the reigning champions missed the opportunity to pounce with defeat away to Tottenham, this time they did nothing wrong.
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Guardiola also learned his lesson from an experimental squad at Tottenham. Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Kevin De Bruyne and Gundogan were restored to the starting line-up, and City looked more like their old selves.
City’s support showed their feelings before kick-off, with the Premier League anthem being booed and a banner saluting the lawyer the club had hired to defend the charges.
Just four minutes later, they had something to cheer about when Rodri rose up to head home a corner kick from Mahrez.
Jack Grealish was in the mood to do some damage against his former club and only a brilliant finger print from Emiliano Martinez denied the England international access to the top corner.
Much was said of City’s reluctance to hit Erling Haaland early on in a languid surrender to Spurs last weekend and the Norwegian was a more persistent threat behind the Villa defence.
Haaland set up the second goal as his pace beat Martinez to volley De Bruyne over the top and Gundogan picked into the far corner for a simple finish.
Grealish then lured Jacob Ramsey into a clumsy challenge to score a penalty, which Mahrez slotted home as Haaland surprisingly stepped down.
That decision may have been explained by Haaland withdrawing at half-time as he appeared to be addressing a groin problem, which will be a concern for Guardiola.
So would his team’s defensive record, as they were spoiled by another clean sheet when Douglas Luiz robbed Bernardo Silva and fired Ollie Watkins into the far corner on the hour mark.
Villa substitute John Doran then hit the bar in injury time, but the second-half rally was minimal, too late for Unai Emery’s men.
Still interesting RASHFORD problem as the red devils brush next to the competitors
Marcus Rashford continued his fiery streak with a late goal that propelled Manchester United to a 2-0 victory at old rivals Leeds United on Monday.
After scoring United’s comeback from two goals down in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Leeds, Rashford tormented the Yorkshire club once again.
Rashford scored the net 10 minutes before the end of the match at Elland Road to secure four consecutive matches in the English Premier League with a goal for the England striker, who scored in eight of his last nine matches in the tournament.
After Alejandro Garnacho’s frustrated reaction to being substituted on Wednesday, the young Argentine made amends when he came off the bench to seal United’s hard-fought victory five minutes after Rashford’s goal.
United’s victory was only their second in their last five league matches, although they have only lost once in their last 17 matches in all competitions.
Erik Ten Hag’s side moved up to second place, although Manchester City will overtake them if they beat Aston Villa later on Sunday.
More importantly, United are seven points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham in the race to qualify for the Champions League through fourth place.
The encounter was marred by offensive chanting from the stands, with Leeds fans singing about the 1958 Munich plane crash that killed several United players and their opponents responding in the wasted end by chanting about the deaths of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in 2000.
Leeds, in fourth place, have not won in their last nine league matches and will drop into the relegation zone if Everton beat Liverpool on Monday.
Since the sacking of Jesse Marsh on Monday, Leeds have seen Rayo Vallecano coach Andoni Iraola moved by his club, while Feyenoord’s Arn Slut and West Brom’s Carlos Corbran have ruled themselves out of the competition.
Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear insists the search is “well advanced”, but Michael Scoppala was responsible for a rematch on an interim basis.
Amidst a cacophony of noise at Elland Road, Leeds got off to a frantic start, releasing Crysencio Summerville after a mistake from United left-back Terrell Malacia.
In keeping with the aggressive tone of one of the fiercest rivalries in English football, there were early bookings for fellow Summerville and Leeds Junior Firpo for two fouls.
In the midst of a frantic encounter riddled with errors, Bruno Fernandes’ effort from Ilan Mesler’s shot was stopped by a shock from Robin Koch, with the United midfielder’s call for handball fading.
Summerville was denied by David De Gea when he tried to poke a home run at close point.
Fernandez missed a golden opportunity when he ran clean on goal after being fouled by Max Wöber, only to shoot straight at Mesler.
Summerville carried the main threat to Leeds and forced a good save from De Gea shortly after the interval.
United were on the back foot and Luke Ayling came close with a shot that was deflected wide of Luke Shaw.
After scoring United’s equalizer against Leeds in midweek, Jadon Sancho was rewarded with his first league start since October, but the England striker was largely an unknown and was substituted off after an hour.
United defender Diogo Dalot almost broke the deadlock with a powerful strike against the crossbar from the edge of the area.
De Gea had to make a clever save with his foot to deny Summerville the lead from a tight angle before United finally made the breakthrough in the 80th minute.
Shaw whipped in a sensational cross and Rashford found space to head home in from 10 yards, as the striker’s 21st goal of the season escaped VAR checks for offside.
Garnacho put the result beyond doubt five minutes later when he raced into the area and fired past Mesler at the near post.
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