MANCHESTER, England (AP)Manchester City’s title defense is imploding in a way Pep Guardiola has never experienced before.
Losing 2-1 to Manchester United left City with 32 points in the Premier League – Guardiola’s lowest haul after 16 matches in 11 years in top-flight management.
Any fading prospect of a hat trick of titles looks to have been extinguished by City’s fiercest foe in a game marred by United players being targeted with racist abuse and objects thrown by home fans.
The derby defeat left City 14 points behind Liverpool after the leaders won 3-0 at Bournemouth to nudge toward ending a 30-year championship drought.
“It is not realistic to think about catching up,” Guardiola said.
Second-place Leicester is now the team to catch for City, but the 2016 champions can move six points ahead with a victory at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Chelsea’s grip on fourth place weakened with a 3-1 loss at struggling Everton as Duncan Ferguson started his caretaker command with a signature success.
But the goal of the day came at Tottenham where Son Heung-min ran scored a dazzling solo goal after running from one of the field to the other in a 5-0 victory over Burnley for Jose Mourinho’s sixth-place team.
Chelsea’s collapse helped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cap a transformative week with United up to fifth place and only five points from the Champions League spots.
Being held at home by Aston Villa last Sunday raised further doubts about Solskjaer’s job prospects, especially with Mauricio Pochettino on the market after being fired by Tottenham.
But since then Solskjaer has masterminded victories over two of the biggest names in management: Mourinho – Pochettino’s successor at Tottenham – and Guardiola.
“There’s more hard times for the doubters out there,” Solskjaer said, “because we’ll keep on working the way we’re doing and we believe in what we’re doing.”
United tore apart City in the first half at the Etihad Stadium.
Marcus Rashford put United ahead from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute after being bundled over by Bernardo Silva.
The second goal inside six minutes was created by a slick exchange of passes between Daniel James and Anthony Martial, who applied the final touch past goalkeeper Ederson.
City didn’t even manage a shot on target until the 34th when United goalkeeper David de Gea denied David Silva.
Although Nicolas Otamendi’s header reduced the deficit in the 85th, City couldn’t prevent United from claiming only a second away win of the season.
City’s priority after the game was working with police to identity the fans who racially abused United duo Fred and Jesse Lingard and hurled objects at them as a corner was able to be taken during the second half.
“Thank God I have a lot of friends here in the locker room who hugged me, like Lingard,” Fred told ESPN. “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to move on.”
LIVERPOOL ON MARCH
Liverpool’s goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah came in a devastating 19-minute spell either side of halftime to make it 33 league games unbeaten for Juergen Klopp’s side stretching back into last season.
“The team performance was just really mature and professional,” Klopp said. “Just what we needed.”
Son’s mazy run before scoring Tottenham’s third goal against Burnley reminded Mourinho of a goal scored by Brazil great Ronaldo.
“Even before this goal my son calls him ‘Sonaldo,’ and today he was Sonaldo Nazario,” Mourinho said. “The only thing that came to my mind was a goal where I had the honor to be sat next to Sir Bobby Robson, in 1996, and Ronaldo Nazario scored a goal against Compostela from behind the halfway line and scored a very similar goal.”
Harry Kane also scored twice and Lucas Moura and Moussa Sissoko were on target as Tottenham recovered from losing to United on Wednesday.
Ferguson, a former Everton striker, already has the team out of the relegation zone after Marco Silva’s firing.
Ferguson was charging down the touchline at Goodison Park celebrating with ball boys after Richarlison’s header after five minutes against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
“It was just relief, excitement,” Ferguson said. “But you still know there is a long way to go in the game so you’re not getting too carried away, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. I’d have hugged the linesman if he was there. It is just emotion.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin extended Everton’s lead four minutes into the second half but Mateo Kovacic’s first Premier League goal reduced the deficit.
Those early wild celebrations by Ferguson were replicated in the 84th when Calvert-Lewin found the target again.
WATFORD HALTS SLUMP
New manager Nigel Pearson watched from the stands as Watford halted a three-game losing run by drawing 0-0 with Crystal Palace.
Watford has won only once in the league this season and sits at the bottom of the standings, while Palace is in eighth place.
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