LIVERPOOL, May 3: Edin Dzeko scored twice as Manchester City took control of the English Premier League title race by coming from behind to secure a nail-biting 3-2 win at Everton on Saturday.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team moved level on points with Liverpool, who travel to Crystal Palace on Monday, but are above the Merseyside club on goal difference.
City could have lost first place as early as Sunday, when third-place Chelsea host Norwich City, but they will be top going into the final weekend if they beat Aston Villa in their game in hand in mid-week.
With West Ham United due to follow Villa to the Etihad Stadium, the trip to Goodison Park represented City’s biggest hurdle and they fell behind to a fine strike from England hopeful Ross Barkley after only 11 minutes.
Sergio Aguero pulled them level before limping off through injury with less than half an hour gone.
Dzeko headed City ahead just before the interval and then tapped in the visitors’ third goal early in the second half before Romelu Lukaku’s diving header set up a nervous finish.
Although it was far from convincing, and Aguero’s latest injury is another concern, City know that their nine-goal advantage over Liverpool in goal difference means that two more wins are likely to be enough to secure a second title in three years.
Such has been the impact of Gareth Barry, who is spending the last season of his City contract on loan at Everton, that his absence prompted a complete tactical overhaul from home manager Roberto Martinez, who employed three centre-backs.
But the hosts controlled possession from the start and should have had more to show for it than a Steven Naismith shot on the turn that flew past the near post from a Leighton Baines cross.
City’s best early opening saw Javi Garcia rise highest to meet Samir Nasri’s corner, but the Spaniard’s header flew straight at Tim Howard, before Pablo Zabaleta thumped over from Aguero’s pass.
But with just 11 minutes gone, Everton moved in front through a strike of real quality.
Baines’s cross was laid off to Barkley, whose powerful, curling shot from 25 yards flew over Hart and into the top-right corner.
– Hart thwarts Deulofeu –
City’s initial response was timid, with Yaya Toure curling a shot high and wide after being fed by Nasri, before Aguero struck.
The Argentine had clearly been struggling with an apparent groin injury, but after collecting a pass from Toure on the wrong side of Antolin Alcaraz, he drilled a shot past Howard at the near post.
Aguero had to be replaced shortly afterwards, with Nasri curling over from the edge of the area after a lengthy spell of possession for the visitors.
Dzeko wasted a good opportunity when his poor cross was easily blocked at the near post, but Everton failed to clear properly and when James Milner sent over a cross from the right, the Bosnian found the net with a towering header.
Everton had the chance to pull level just after the break when Barkley was allowed to surge forward 60 yards.
His pass found Naismith, who held off Zabaleta before seeing his low drive superbly tipped around the post by Hart.
Two minutes later, City worked some space down the left and Nasri crossed to give Dzeko a simple tap-in that gave the visitors a two-goal cushion.
It looked to have killed Everton’s resistance, as they dominated possession without creating chances.
But midway through the second half the hosts pulled one back when Baines crossed from the left and Lukaku guided a header in off the post to give them hope.
A lengthy delay for a shoulder injury to Dzeko helped to stifle any momentum being built by the hosts.
But with three minutes left City had to call on Hart once again, with the England goalkeeper turning an effort from Gerard Deulofeu around the post.