LONDON (AP) - Manchester City took charge of the Premier League title race as Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure scored first-half goals to secure a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
A couple of hours after leader Liverpool lost 2-0 against Chelsea at home, City cut its deficit to the Reds to three points with one game in hand. If they win their three remaining matches and keep their superior goal difference, City’s players would be crowned champions.
“It was a happy day and it was very important for us,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. “Before today we were depending on other teams. Now we continue as we were two weeks ago, depending only on what we do. But it’s not finished, we have to play three games more. We will see in the future who will be the best.”
City will play at Everton on Saturday and could knock Liverpool off its perch on goal difference before the Reds play at Palace the next Monday.
“It was very important not to be thinking about the result of Chelsea vs. Liverpool,” Pellegrini said. “We just needed to concentrate on ourselves, and the players did it in a very professional way, knowing that if we beat Crystal Palace we would have our future in our hands.”
Having recovered from a thigh problem, Toure made a spectacular return to competition in a stellar man of the match display, setting up Dzeko’s opener in the fourth minute with a precise cross that the striker headed home. The powerful midfielder then started and concluded a superb collective move two minutes before halftime with a curling effort.
Toure has scored 19 league goals this season and his return is a massive boost to City’s ambitions.
“To be honest, we were looking a little bit at the Liverpool vs. Chelsea game,” Toure said. “It was a tricky game but we did well. We have just three games left and we want to focus on winning those.”
After Liverpool’s earlier slip-up, City players got off to the best possible start at Selhurst Park as the returning Toure crossed for Dzeko, who jumped between two defenders and headed past Julian Speroni from close range to open the scoring.
Undeterred by the goal and having secured their topflight status last weekend, Palace put on an attacking display as Yannick Bolasie created danger on both flanks and Cameron Jerome caused havoc in City’s central defense. Palace’s first real chance came in the 18th minute when Jason Puncheon tried his luck from the edge of the box but his effort was too weak for City keeper Joe Hart.
Still, Pellegrini’s team looked in control and City captain Vincent Kompany had a superb chance to double the title contenders’ lead a few minutes later but his powerful header from close range from Samir Nasri’s corner ended just wide.
The game toughened up toward the end of the first half and referee Howard Webb had to show yellow cards to Damien Delaney and Pablo Zabaleta before Samir Nasri received treatment following a contact with Puncheon.
Toure then turned from provider to scorer two minutes before the interval by finishing off a superb move he initiated on the halfway line. The Ivory Coast international played a one-two with Dzeko then passed the ball to Nasri, with the Frenchman putting it back into his path before Toure imposed his physical strength in the area and slotted home.
Palace was on the front foot at the start of the second half, with Hart forced to a dive down to his right to deny Puncheon’s effort.
But Tony Pulis’ players were too often wasteful with their final pass. Chamakh was among the culprits, ignoring Puncheon on his right before misfiring a long pass toward Bolasie. Jerome then wasted a superb pass from Chamakh in the back of the City defense as he took too much time after a heavy first touch.
Toure was applauded by fans from both teams as he was replaced by Fernandinho after 65 minutes while Pulis tried to reinvigorate his team with the introduction of Glenn Murray and Dwight Gayle.
The move did not pay off and City kept creating the best chances - with Sergio Aguero and James Milner combining well down the right flank before Palace keeper Julian Speroni saved Dzeko’s deflected effort with his leg - as Palace’s record-equaling run of five consecutive Premier League wins was brought to an abrupt end.
“I don’t think the players played at their maximum today,” Pulis said. “And the Chelsea result before the game gave City a massive boost. The players should not worry about that too much.”
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