Manchester City moved back above Liverpool at the top of the Premier League after easing to victory against struggling Cardiff.
An eighth successive league win for the defending champions was seldom in doubt and means they lead Jurgen Klopp’s team by a point with six games remaining.
Pep Guardiola’s side, who are chasing an unprecedented quadruple, know they will finish top if they win their remaining matches but it is unlikely many of them will be as straightforward as this one.
Kevin de Bruyne took just five minutes to open the scoring with his first league goal since 22 December, running on to Aymeric Laporte’s pass and squeezing his shot into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
More Manchester City possession and chances followed, before Leroy Sane made it 2-0 just before half-time, burying his shot into the bottom corner after a neat chested knock-down from Gabriel Jesus.
Cardiff, who remain five points adrift of safety, barely threatened at the other end and did not register an effort at goal or a touch in the home area until Junior Hoilett had a hopeful shot blocked at the very end of the first half.
They did not manage a serious foray forward until Oumar Niasse broke away to force Ederson into a fine save after 85 minutes, while Manchester City continued to pepper Neil Etheridge’s goal with shots.
Phil Foden had two efforts brilliantly stopped by Etheridge as he tried unsuccessfully to mark his first league start with a goal, while Jesus saw an elaborate flick fly wide when it appeared easy to tap the ball home, with his blushes saved by an offside flag.
Despite failing to add to their tally in the second half, Manchester City’s goal difference is now nine better than Liverpool’s – although the Reds can replace them at the top if they win at Southampton on Friday.
City’s squad steps up to secure win
The home side’s superiority meant they were able to coast through large parts of this game, but they face a punishing schedule if they are to become the first English team to manage a clean sweep across four fronts.
They will play twice a week for the rest of April, with their next two tests against Brighton in their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Saturday and Tottenham in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.
All of Manchester City’s squad will surely play some part in a the next few weeks, so it must have been reassuring for Guardiola to see some of his lesser-used players in such convincing form here.
With Sergio Aguero injured and Raheem Sterling left on the bench, it was left to Jesus to lead the line and although he did not manage a goal himself, his non-stop running frequently opened up spaces for others.
Like Jesus, Riyad Mahrez has also been short of first-team starts recently. One early misplaced pass brought groans from his side’s fans but he continued to look lively and should have had a penalty when he was fouled in the box in the second half.
Foden looked completely at ease in his surroundings, understandable given his first-team appearances in other competitions, while a fit-again De Bruyne is clearly a huge boost to City’s hopes.
The only cloud on an otherwise pretty much perfect night was an early injury to Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has made the left-back slot his own since the start of the year.
Cardiff can have no complaints about this result
Huddersfield and Fulham have already been relegated from the Premier League and Cardiff are fighting to avoid joining them.
The Bluebirds did nothing to improve their situation here, but their survival prospects were always going to depend more on how they fare in their next two games – away at Burnley and Brighton, who are two of the three teams immediately above them – than their result against Guardiola’s team.
Several key decisions went against the Bluebirds in their defeat by Chelsea on Sunday, bringing a furious reaction from manager Neil Warnock, but on this occasion he cannot argue that his side deserved more than they got.
Their attempts to keep the home side out looked doomed to failure from the moment Jesus missed a De Bruyne cross by a matter of millimetres just 30 seconds into the game, and things did not improve much from that point.
If Niasse had taken his chance when he ran clear, then the visitors might have made the final five minutes of the game into more of a contest, but Cardiff were clearly second best throughout.
Man of the match – Kevin de Bruyne (Man City)
Fortress Etihad – the stats
- Manchester City have won 23 of their 25 home matches across all competitions in 2018-19 (L2), including 16 of 17 in the Premier League (L1).
- Only Chelsea in 2004-05 (31 games) and Manchester City last season (30 games) have reached 80 points (assuming three points for a win) in fewer games in English top-flight history than City have this season (32 games).
- Cardiff remain the only side in Premier League history to have never won a midweek match (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) in the competition (P11 W0 D3 L8). They have scored just two goals in their 11 such fixtures.
- Cardiff boss Neil Warnock has lost all eight of his managerial league matches against the reigning top-flight champions, including six in the Premier League; only Paul Jewell (eight) and Paul Lambert (seven) have a poorer 100% loss rate against reigning champions in the competition.
- Only Blackburn Rovers (18 in 1994-95) have ever scored more goals in the opening 15 minutes of their games in a single Premier League season than Manchester City have in 2018-19 (17).
- Leroy Sane has had a hand in 24 goals in his past 21 appearances at Etihad Stadium for Manchester City in all competitions (nine goals, 15 assists).
- With an average age of 25 years and 139 days, Manchester City’s starting XI against Cardiff was their youngest in a Premier League match since April 2011 against Sunderland (24 years 341 days).
- Phil Foden (18 years 310 days) was the youngest player to make his first Premier League start for Manchester City since Jose Pozo against Leicester in December 2014 (18 years 273 days), and youngest English player to do so since Daniel Sturridge in January 2008 against Derby (18 years 151 days).
City head for Wembley for the fourth time this season this weekend to face Brighton (17:30 BST, live on BBC One), having won on all three previous visits – the Community Shield, Spurs in the Premier League and the Carabao Cup final.
Cardiff have the weekend off. They are next in action at Burnley on 13 April (15:00).