United puts City’s title celebrations on hold with 3-2 win
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester United delayed the English Premier League title celebrations of fierce rival Manchester City after coming from two goals down to win 3-2 in a thrilling derby on Saturday.
City’s players might have to wait another two weeks to get their hands on the trophy following a second-half collapse at Etihad Stadium sparked by two quick goals by Paul Pogba — the man apparently offered to City in January, according to an extraordinary pre-match revelation by Pep Guardiola.
City toyed with United in the first half, scoring through Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan, and threatened to put its neighbor out of sight to wrap up the title with a record six matches to spare.
United was a different side after halftime. Pogba — playing with blue dye in his hair, a contentious decision in the circumstances — finished off a flowing team move to reduce the deficit in the 53rd before equalizing off a header from Alexis Sanchez’s cross.
Chris Smalling scored the winning goal by volleying in Sanchez’s free kick in the 69th.
City’s lead was trimmed to 13 points by United, meaning even a win at Tottenham next Saturday would not secure City a third league title in six years. In that case, United could prolong the title race by beating West Bromwich Albion a day later.
It will be a satisfying win for Jose Mourinho over his big managerial rival Pep Guardiola, even though he will surely be beaten to the title by the Spaniard.
Mourinho insisted publicly that his priority on Saturday was to get a win to consolidate second place in the standings and it did just that. With third-place Liverpool held at local rival Everton to 0-0 hours earlier, United is four points clear in second.
Winning the Premier League never comes easy for City, even in a record-breaking season like this one. Its previous title wins came in 2012 and 2014, sealing the trophy only on the final day on both occasions.
This loss comes three days after losing to Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal at Anfield. The return leg is at Etihad on Tuesday — Guardiola fielded a slightly weakened side against United as a result — and confidence cannot be high going into it.
As for Pogba, it completes a strange 24 hours after being thrust into the center of a storm on Friday by Guardiola saying he was offered the chance to sign the France midfielder by the player’s agent, Mino Raiola.
Pogba had a brief chat with Guardiola after the final whistle, then went to United’s fans and patted the badge on his chest.
Man City’s focus now switches to the Champions League — and there’s still uncertainty over the fitness of Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah for the quarterfinal second leg on Tuesday.
After Liverpool’s goalless draw at Everton in the Merseyside derby, which Salah missed, Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp was coy about the Egyptian’s chances of playing in midweek.
Asked if Salah will be fit, Klopp said: “That’s what everyone thinks but at the end we will see.”
Klopp made five changes for the game, with Roberto Firmino among those on the bench, and was thankful for late misses by Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott that allowed Liverpool to extend its unbeaten run in the derby to 17 matches.
Tottenham drew level on points with third-place Liverpool thanks to Christian Eriksen’s double in a 2-1 win at Stoke.
Harry Kane was back in Spurs’ starting lineup after an ankle injury and was looking to trim the gap to Salah in the race for the Golden Boot. Salah is ahead 29-24.
Instead, Eriksen was the match-winner. Having slotted home from Dele Alli’s pass for the opener, the Denmark playmaker curled in a free kick that avoided everyone and crept home in the 63rd.
It looks like there’s no hope for West Bromwich Albion, which is 10 points from safety with five games left after drawing at home to Swansea 1-1. Next-to-last Stoke is four points adrift of safety after its loss to Tottenham.
It’s tight for the other relegation place, with third-to-last Southampton a point above Stoke with two games in hand, the first coming at Arsenal on Sunday.
Above them, Crystal Palace missed a chance to pull clear of trouble after conceding another late goal, this time in the 89th minute in a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth. Brighton and Huddersfield still aren’t safe after drawing 1-1.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80