Chelsea climbs to second spot with win against Crystal Palace
Pep Guardiola has said Raheem Sterling can get even better after his “incredible” performance in Manchester City’s 6-1 victory over Southampton.
The England forward scored twice and caused the Saints problems all afternoon as City move two points clear at the top of the Premier League.
But Guardiola said it was too early to claim that Sterling is one of the best players in the world as he still needs to increase his consistency.
“He is a top player but still is so young to consider it is the world’s best players,” Guardiola told a news conference. “He is in incredible form.
“He is sharp, fast, clever, fighting, ambitious and he’s decisive. It was an incredible performance with and without the ball but still with the young guys like him and Leroy [Sane], I would like to feel they can still improve.
“Still hes loses simple balls, like the Tottenham game when he made an amazing assist in the first few minutes but then lost a lot of balls. In this kind of team, to stay they have to improve that. Still his pace and quality is incredible.”
Sterling is entering the final 18 months of his contract with sources telling ESPN FC that the former Liverpool forward has verbally agreed a new deal.
The 23-year-old has improved hugely since the arrival of Guardiola but the City boss says the players deserve the credit for their willingness to learn.
“Not just Raheem, everybody. It is a joy to be manager of them because they follow us,” he added. “It is an absolute happiness for a manager and all the staff we have alongside and Raheem.
“Mikel [Arteta] insists a lot of many things and everybody is there to help the guys be better. If at the end of our period here, we feel they are better [then that] is enough.”
Sterling has now scored or assisted eight goals in his 12 appearances this season with the strikes against Southampton his third and fourth this campaign. That follows on from his best ever season of 23 goals last term and Guardiola said City’s No. 7 has lost his fear in front of goal.
“The first season, when the ball arrived in the box he was scared, he was looking, who is the guy I am going to pass the ball? That was our feeling,” he said. “We spoke about that in training and said try to score goals. It doesn’t matter if you miss it. Be aggressive. Now you have the feeling, where is the goal and go over there.
“For the second goal he arrived until the keeper. I have the feeling he is now enjoying scoring goals and making assists and be important in winning games. He is becoming a winning player and he is just 23 years old. We cannot forget that.”
Sergio Aguero, with his 150th league goal, David Silva and Leroy Sane were also on the mark as Pep Guardiola’s side continued their unbeaten start to their title defence.
Southampton had the minor consolation of becoming the first team in 630 minutes to score against City but the leaders’ form is ominous for the rest of the division.
City are scoring at a marginally faster rate than they did while racking up a record 106 goals last season, and they made a devastating start at the Etihad that finished the game as a contest within 18 minutes of kick-off.
Five minutes had gone when Aguero orchestrated an attack on the edge of the Southampton area, David Siva then moving the ball on to the overlapping Sane, whose cross was turned into his own goal by Saints’ Wesley Hoedt.
It took a further six minutes for City to double the lead, Bernardo Silva setting free Sterling on the right and the England forward selflessly squaring for Aguero to hammer in from close range.
It was the Argentine’s 150th league goal for City, a landmark that moved him level with Michael Owen in eighth place on the Premier League’s all-time goalscoring list.
It appeared City were capable of scoring almost at will and a slick move saw them make it three in the 18th minute.
Again, Sterling was heavily involved, accepting Bernardo Silva’s pass and putting in a cross that was a little too high for Sane but arrived for David Silva, who volleyed in at the far post.
Sterling did in the 67th minute when he latched onto Aguero’s perfectly-weighted pass to score his second goal of the afternoon.
Sane completed an impressive individual and team display in stoppage time when he steered in a left-foot shot from 18 yards following another assist from Sterling.
Later last night, Alvaro Morata scored twice to take unbeaten Chelsea above Liverpool into second place in the Premier League behind Manchester City but Maurizio Sarri’s men made hard work of seeing off Crystal Palace 3-1.
Morata has now scored four in his last four Premier League games after just two goals in his previous 20 domestic matches, and his return to form could be the final ingredient Sarri’s side need to mount a serious title challenge.
The former Real Madrid striker gave Chelsea a barely deserved half-time lead from an uninspired first 45 minutes.
However, Andros Townsend’s equaliser and the introduction of Eden Hazard from the bench woke Chelsea from their slumber after the break and Morata restored the hosts’ lead before Pedro Rodriguez sealed the three points.
“I can score a hat-trick so it was not the perfect day but we will take the three points,” said Morata.
“When you have a bad period, it takes long to recover.
“Last year was difficult for me for many things. You don’t expect an injury but now I am good, it is nice to be scoring.”
Hazard was only fit enough for a place on the bench on his return from a back injury and his creative spark was badly missed as Chelsea laboured against a well-organised Palace, who also provided a threat on the counter-attack through Wilfried Zaha.
“I don’t think we were battered by Chelsea today,” said Palace manager Roy Hodgson.
“I don’t think we were confronted with lots of goal chances and we kept them at bay pretty well, but they were clinical.”
It was Max Meyer who had the visitors’ best chance, but the German international, who is still looking for his first Palace goal since a summer move from Schalke, fired over when well-placed on the edge of the area.
Chelsea took over half an hour to create anything of note, but Morata took the first opportunity to come his way.
The Spanish international showed a confidence that has been sorely lacking for the majority of his Chelsea career by deftly controlling Pedro’s cross before drilling the ball low past Wayne Hennessey.
Chelsea could have had a second moments later when Willian blasted home another deflected Pedro effort, but the Brazilian was harshly adjudged to be offside.
Sarri is now unbeaten in his first 16 competitive games as Chelsea boss, but will know there is still plenty of room for improvement as a sleepy start to the second-half was punished in the 53rd minute.
David Luiz was caught ball watching and Townsend played a quick one-two with James McArthur before firing low past Kepa Arrizalabaga.
Hennessey did well to parry a powerful Luiz header as the Brazilian tried to make amends for his error.
However, it wasn’t until Sarri summoned Hazard and Mateo Kovacic from the bench in the 64th minute that Chelsea took control.
Hazard’s first involvement was to be chopped down midway inside the Palace half, and his free-kick found a way through to Morata, who arrowed a shot into the far corner.
Five minutes later Chelsea had breathing room as Morata again did well to leave Marcos Alonso’s cross for the onrushing Pedro to slot home.
Morata had the chance for his hat-trick when put clean through by Hazard in stoppage time, but failed to fool Hennessey with his attempted chip.