MANCHESTER City kept pace with likely title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea by beating West Ham 3-1 on Sunday for a third straight victory in the early stages of the English Premier League season.
However, what started as a lesson in pass-and-move, attacking football by City under new coach Pep Guardiola turned into a nervy finish at Etihad Stadium.
Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho scored in the opening 18 minutes for City, which carved West Ham open at will in a dominant first-half display that showed Guardiola’s influence is already rubbing off on his players.
Injury-hit West Ham improved in the second half and Michail Antonio’s 58th-minute header made City work for its win, which was sealed by another goal by Sterling in injury time when he rounded the goalkeeper and scored from a narrow angle.
Aguero uses flying elbowAguero uses flying elbow0:26
At least one perfect record will go when United plays City at Old Trafford in the first round of games after the international break.
It’s early days, but it could well be a shootout for the title between the three teams already at the top of the standings. City currently is ahead of United and Chelsea on goal difference – and Guardiola said there plenty more to come.
“Of course, there is still room for improvement,” Guardiola said, “but we have been playing well and hopefully we can continue doing that.
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, right, celebrates scoring his side’s third goal.
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, right, celebrates scoring his side’s third goal.Source: AP
“We have to make an amazing performance to win at Old Trafford. I can imagine the atmosphere. I am looking forward to live that experience.”
Arguably Guardiola’s biggest achievement in his first few months at Etihad Stadium is getting the best out of Sterling, who lost his place in the team at the end of last season – his first at City – and then had a poor European Championship campaign with England. Now, he is showing the kind of form that persuaded City to spend 49 million pounds (then $76 million) to sign him from Liverpool last year. Creating more space for him to run at defenders seems to be the key difference in Sterling this season.
“We try to help him to say, ‘If you stay in that position, you receive the ball quicker,”’ Guardiola said.
“After, when he receives the ball, it is completely his talent. Man City bought this player because they believe.”
Deadlock at The HawthornsDeadlock at The Hawthorns1:32
In the other game Sunday, Middlesbrough maintained its unbeaten start to life back in the English Premier League by drawing 0-0 with West Bromwich Albion in a match of few clear-cut opportunities at The Hawthorns.
Promoted last season after seven years in the second-tier League Championship, Middlesbrough has five points from its opening three games under coach Aitor Karanka – the former assistant of Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid.
West Brom’s best chances fell to defenders Brendan Galloway and Craig Dawson, but Middlesbrough’s American goalkeeper Brad Guzan wasn’t seriously tested.
Cristhian Stuani and Daniel Ayala had shots saved by West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster late in the game.
West Brom has a win, a draw and a loss so far this season.
GAME-BY-GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM ALL 10 EPL GAMES
MANCHESTER UNITED 1, HULL CITY 0
Substitute Marcus Rashford scored in the second minute of stoppage time to earn Manchester United a 1-0 win at Hull and a third straight victory to open the English Premier League on Saturday.
Rashford capped an impressive cameo as a 71st-minute substitute by tapping in from close range after Wayne Rooney cut in from the left and sent across a low ball.
After previous wins over Bournemouth and Southampton, United was on course to drop points for the first time this season in the face of an obdurate defensive performance by promoted Hull, which also won its first two games.
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CHELSEA 3, BURNLEY 0
Chelsea continued its perfect start to the English Premier League under new manager Antonio Conte, beating Burnley 3-0 on Saturday.
Chelsea has nine points from three league games with Conte, who moved to Chelsea after leading Italy to the European Championship quarterfinals.
Newly promoted Burnley quickly fell behind at Stamford Bridge when Eden Hazard shot from outside the area in the ninth minute for his second goal in three matches, and Willian made it 2-0 in the 41st with a low shot after an assist from Diego Costa.
Pedro’s cross set up Victor Moses for a third goal in the 89th. Burnley may have beaten Liverpool with 19 per cent possession of the ball last weekend, but Conte’s rampant side never looked remotely like falling for the counterpunch.
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WATFORD 1, ARSENAL 3
Alexis Sanchez scored one goal, set up another and also earned a penalty as Arsenal used a dominant first-half display to beat Watford 3-1 for its first win of the Premier League season on Saturday.
The Chile forward tumbled to the ground in the area after being challenged by Nordin Amrabat, giving Santi Cazorla the opportunity to slot a penalty kick down the middle to put Arsenal ahead in the 9th minute.
Sanchez made it 2-0 in the 40th in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Meeting Theo Walcott’s low cross from the right, Sanchez fell over while applying the finish but still managed to get the ball past Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes and over the line before it could be cleared.
Mesut Ozil then made a late run into the box and headed in Sanchez’s pinpoint cross from the left, giving Arsenal a 3-0 lead in first-half injury time.
Roberto Pereyra, recently bought from Juventus as Watford’s record signing, came off the bench at halftime for his debut and reduced the deficit in the 57th with a powerful shot from a rebound.
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TOTTENHAM 1, LIVERPOOL 1
Liverpool drew 1-1 with Tottenham in its third straight away game to open the Premier League season after conceding a second-half equaliser by Danny Rose on Saturday.
James Milner capped a dominant first-half display by Liverpool by converting a 43rd-minute penalty after Roberto Firmino was tripped by Erik Lamela.
Rose preserved Spurs’ unbeaten start to the season by scoring from one of his team’s rare sights on goal, striking a slightly mis-hit shot inside the near post in the 72nd after Lamela flicked on Eric Dier’s right-wing cross.
Tottenham has five points from three games, one more point than a Liverpool side that has played all of its matches away from Anfield while the club completes the rebuilding of the Main Stand. Liverpool hosts Leicester at Anfield on Sept. 10.
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LEICESTER CITY 2, SWANSEA CITY 1
Leicester have clinched the first win of their Premier League title defence, beating Swansea 2-1 thanks to goals from England striker Jamie Vardy and captain Wes Morgan on Saturday.
It should have been an even bigger win for the champions in a dominant display at a rain-lashed King Power stadium, with English football’s player of the year Riyad Mahrez having a 56th-minute penalty saved.
And it wound up being a nervous end for the hosts after Leroy Fer pulled a goal back for Swansea in the 81st.
Vardy put Leicester ahead in typical fashion when he ran onto a lofted pass forward by Danny Drinkwater, nudged the ball forward, and thumped a finish into the net off the post in the 32nd minute. The England striker is off the mark this season after scoring 24 goals in Leicester’s surprise run to the title in the 2015-16 campaign.
Morgan smashed home the second goal in the 52nd minute at a corner, after the ball had popped up off centre-back partner Robert Huth’s arm as the pair challenged for a high cross.
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CRYSTAL PALACE 1, BOURNEMOUTH 1
Wilfried Zaha wants out from Crystal Palace, and yet he was the inspiration in their 1-1 draw with Bournemouth in the English Premier League on Saturday.
Palace was shaken this week when Zaha asked manager Alan Pardew for a transfer to Tottenham. Pardew made him a substitute for the match, and Palace was lacklustre and fortunate to concede only once in the first half.
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Bournemouth’s Harry Arter gathered Christian Benteke’s casual clearance and lobbed it to Joshua King, who chested the ball down and booted it inside the far left post.
Looking for a goalscoring threat, Pardew sent in Zaha in the 66th minute, and the winger received a warm reception from the home crowd. He also lifted the attack, with his speed and confidence on the right constantly stretching Bournemouth’s defence. It finally broke three minutes into injury time, when Jason Puncheon’s cross was headed in by Scott Dann.
EVERTON 1, STOKE CITY 0
Shay Given got his hand to a penalty kick before the ball came off the post and went in after striking the unlucky Stoke goalkeeper, as Everton won the Premier League match 1-0 Saturday to continue coach Ronald Koeman’s unbeaten start.
The own-goal in the 51st minute was enough to give Everton its second win from three league games and its first at home.
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SOUTHAMPTON 1, SUNDERLAND 1
Jay Rodriguez’s late equaliser salvaged a 1-1 draw for Southampton against visiting Sunderland in the English Premier League on Saturday.
Deputy Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford allowed Rodriguez’s strike from distance to squirm under his body with five minutes remaining.