LONDON (AP) — Phil Foden marked his return to Manchester City’s starting team with a goal that sent the champions into the new year with an eight-point lead in the Premier League.
Foden’s 16th-minute strike was enough for City to secure a 1-0 win at Brentford on Wednesday and tighten its grip on the title race after slip-ups by Liverpool and Chelsea over the last two days.
Foden and Jack Grealish had been benched for City’s wins over Newcastle and Leicester over the past week after they were pictured on a night out following the 7-0 home win over Leeds.
But the England pair were back in the starting lineup in west London, and Foden’s finish from Kevin De Bruyne’s cross made it 10 wins in a row for Pep Guardiola’s team.
The calendar-year statistics churned out at this stage of the season usually have little relevance, but City’s deserve a mention.
The team has set English top-flight records for the most victories, 36, and the most away wins, 19, in the last 12 months, while their tally of 113 goals is also a Premier League record.
Brentford has beaten Arsenal, held Liverpool and given Chelsea a fright this season but with 11 first-team players missing — the suspended Christian Norgaard and calf-injury victim Bryan Mbeumo were the latest absentees — this had the potential to be a long and painful night against a side which had scored 30 goals in their previous nine wins.
It did not turn out that way, though. In fact, after 10 minutes of constant, if rather toothless, City possession, it was Brentford which created the first real chances.
When City gave the ball away on the halfway line, Frank Onyeka raced through on the counter-attack before firing a low shot which Ederson gathered.
Moments later, Joao Cancelo had to head clear off the line after Yoane Wissa’s mishit shot bounced awkwardly across Ederson’s goal.
But with its usual ruthless efficiency, City promptly swept up the other end and scored seconds later, De Bruyne whipping in a first-time cross from the right which Foden expertly guided home with his in-step.
The rest of the first half was fairly uneventful, apart from the increasing niggle between Fernandinho and Ivan Toney which culminated in the Brentford striker giving his adversary a gentle tread on the shin as he lay on the ball.
Brentford was defending well, not least in stoppage time when Ethan Pinnock’s header denied Grealish — who looked a little lost in his role as false nine — a simple finish at the far post.
City could, and probably should, have scored more after the break. Less than a minute into the second half, Foden almost had another, his glancing header from another cross from De Bruyne flying wide of the far post.
Foden, now playing the central attacking role with Grealish pushed out on the left, had the ball in the net four minutes later, but he was offside when he nodded in Gabriel Jesus’ cross.
Then De Bruyne hit the near post with a skidding effort from the edge of the area and Fernandinho blazed a volley over.
Three minutes from time, the ball was in the Brentford net again but video review adjudged Aymeric Laporte was just offside when he headed in De Bruyne’s free kick, and for once freescoring City had to settle for just the one goal.
Earlier Wednesday, Chelsea was held 1-1 at home by Brighton. The draw was enough to move the London team into second place and one point ahead of Liverpool, which lost 1-0 at Leicester on Tuesday.
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