Liverpool: Ilkay Gundogan said Manchester City are showing their experience at the business end of the season after the German scored twice in a 3-0 win on Sunday that kept Everton looking over their shoulders in the relegation battle.
City moved four points clear of Arsenal, who are in action later at home to Brighton, with three games remaining for both sides.
The defending champions’ superior goal difference means five points from their remaining matches will likely be enough for a fifth title in six seasons.
“We have a very experienced team and competing in the last few games of the season is not a new situation for us, and that helps us a lot,” said Gundogan. “It’s about staying calm and trust in your abilities.”
Everton remain just one point outside the relegation zone and could slip into the bottom three if Leicester beat Liverpool on Monday.
By contrast to the Toffees’ troubles, City are still well on course for a treble and could afford the luxury of an afternoon off for some of their stars ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, second leg against Real Madrid.
“It’s a dream come true being here,” said City coach Pep Guardiola. “The only team in Europe to be fighting in all competitions. Still it is not over, in the Premier League is it never over. We need two more wins to be champions.”
Guardiola made four changes from the side that drew 1-1 in the first leg in the Spanish capital on Tuesday with John Stones, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish left on the bench.
It took the visitors 35 minutes to find their rhythm, by which point they should have been behind as Mason Holgate somehow spooned over a glorious chance to open the scoring after James Tarkowski headed down a corner.
Within three minutes of Holgate’s sitter, the game was over as a contest.
– Gundogan on a high –
Guardiola had stern words for Gundogan despite the German scoring twice in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Leeds after the midfielder missed a late penalty having been given the chance to complete his hat-trick by Erling Haaland.
Gundogan made amends with a stunning touch to control and then flick home Riyad Mahrez’s cross in one movement to break the deadlock.
Moments later, he created the second with a floated cross that invited Haaland to power home his 52nd goal of the season with just his third touch in 39 minutes.
Everton boss Sean Dyche showed he too was already thinking about his side’s final two games of the season by replacing talismanic striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has missed most of the season through injury, with Neal Maupay at half-time.
“He felt a tight groin, but a tight groin can become a damaged groin,” said Dyche. “It would have been a harder call if it had been 0-0 but at 2-0 I had to make a call.”
Guardiola could not have wished for a more serene second-half to prepare for the visit of the European champions in midweek as another moment of brilliance from Gundogan made it 3-0 six minutes after the restart.
The 32-year-old is probably into the final month of his seven-year stay in Manchester with his contract up at the end of the season and Barcelona reportedly ready to pounce on a free transfer, but looks set to go out on a high.
Gundogan curled a free-kick beyond the desperate dive of Jordan Pickford for his ninth goal of the season.
Goal difference could be decisive in the battle to beat the drop and Everton did at least manage to stop the bleeding at three.
Indeed the home side came closest to scoring in the final quarter when Amadou Onana’s header came crashing back off the crossbar.