Man City are led to the title by the man of the hour, and it’s not Erling Haaland

Ilkay Gundogan will not leave it so late this year. Twelve months ago, his goals gave Manchester City the title: a decisive 81st-minute strike against Aston Villa on the final day of the season sealed the trophy. Now City’s May has consisted of more goals from Gundogan to set up another coronation. After the captain’s double against Leeds came an even better double at Everton, a flurry of impromptu brilliance and a free kick he made look enviably easy, sandwiched with an assist. His 300th appearance in town is one of his best.

Without scoring two goals in a game since last May, they have done so in successive league games. As the business finale of the season arrives, Gundogan becomes more determined. It’s inspiring leadership but with a velvet touch.

His excellence could make Arsenal’s results irrelevant. He keeps the Gunners at bay while newly elected Footballer of the Year Erling Haaland instead wages war against Everton’s past. His 52nd goal of the season means he now needs 11 to equal Dixie Dean’s record for a top English club, set almost a century ago. Although, as he only has one goal in his last three games, the equation tilts in favor of Everton’s top scorer. In one respect, Haaland put in a performance of extreme efficiency: when, on 39 minutes, he met Gundogan’s deft cross with a great leap and resounding header, it was only his third touch of the evening. But he had scored on 33 percent of them. He finished with 13 touches and a goal.

In a sense, City mirrored Haaland: not much happened for quite a while and then they were deadly. Half an hour of nothing at the start did suit Everton well, with the league leaders not even registering a shot on goal until the 35th minute, but The Toffees conceded three goals in a quarter of an hour on either side of half-time. They were preceded by a stunning miss, with Mason Holgate lobbing the ball over the bar from four yards out, and Everton’s surprise chances came and went with a wild swing from his right foot.

If City had been missing a small incision early on, it wasn’t surprising. Pep Guardiola had rested much of his preferred midfield with Real Madrid in mind, removing Kevin de Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and quasi-registrant John Stones. But their captain was constant and a catalyst.

11 cityhe The back-to-back league win came from a couple of class touches: first with Gundogan’s knee, to control Riyad Mahrez’s cross, and then with his right boot, when he hooked a volley in a way few could imagine, and much less run. The paradox of City is that they have a robotic air, as if they put training routines into practice on the pitch, but can sometimes rely on individual virtuosity: five days after De Bruyne’s spectacular goal at the BernabĂ©u came another kind of goal. marvelous.

Gundogan’s brilliant improvisational moment set City on course for victory


And, a couple of minutes later, a much more familiar one. Haaland’s giant leap has added another dimension to City’s attack and he headed in Gundogan’s cross. When the German’s free kick flew past Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper perhaps should have done better. However, it was a throwback to past exploits for the title. Gundogan had only scored from one previous Premier League free-kick: at Brighton in May 2019, when City finished a point ahead of Liverpool.

For Everton, the quest is to finish ahead of two from Leeds, Leicester and Nottingham Forest and win a 70he successive seasons in the top flight. Brighton’s five-goal demolition of last week felt like a mirage, even if elite opponents called for a very different approach. They started with nine outfield players in a narrow area just outside their own box and camped out behind the ball.

The final score represented an improvement of sorts. At Burnley, Sean Dyche was in the habit of losing 5-0 to City, usually playing 4-4-2. Here the game plan was different: a scorer of two goals against Brighton and involved in four, Dwight McNeil was an auxiliary defender, falling at left-back to make five at the back. Dyche also finished in 5-4-1 form, rather than risk further damage.

Which, given that his record now stands at 15 losses in 16 games against Guardiola, winless, five goals scored and 54 conceded, is perhaps understandable. There could have been a sixth goal, when Ederson headed past Amadou Onana’s crossbar. Everton could question whether Aymeric Laporte deserved to get away with it when he appeared to lash out at Yerry Mina. But now they have two games, against Wolves and Bournemouth, to make sure they avoid the fall. For Gundogan and City, the season can still bring three trophies.

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