Manchester City returned with a swagger from the international break on Saturday, resuming their quest for four trophies with another dominant 2-0 win at Fulham that thrust them back to the top of the Premier League.
On the afternoon that Huddersfield Town were relegated and Manchester United celebrated the full-time managerial appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a 2-1 win over Watford, City again demonstrated why they remain the league’s benchmark.
Bernardo Silva scored for the third game in a row and Sergio Aguero extended his league-leading tally to 19 in a dazzling early spell, allowing the champions to ease to a seventh straight league victory while never having to hit the heights.
It restored City’s advantage at the top, one point ahead of Liverpool on 77 points with both sides having played 31 games, though Juergen Klopp’s men could return to the summit with a win over third-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Still, City, who have won the League Cup and are in the FA Cup semi-finals and Champions League quarter-finals, moved closer to an unprecedented, if still unlikely, ‘quadruple’ with 14 matches left.
Without seemingly having broken stride, their cosmopolitan crew reconvened after the international break and looked as if they had never been apart as soon as Bernardo Silva arrowed in a left-footed strike within five minutes.
For manager Pep Guardiola, the lunchtime stroll at Craven Cottage, featuring the return of key players like Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho after injury, felt like the most perfect resumption with the pressure immediately restored on Liverpool.
“The first 15, 20 minutes was incredible with the way we played,” he told the BBC.
“After the international break, you usually miss a bit with your rhythm. This game was tricky — 12:30 on a Saturday, a sunny day. That is unusual, and that is why I am so satisfied.
“We don’t think too much about what people say about the quadruple. What Liverpool and Manchester City have done in the Premier League both deserve credit. That’s why we are (both) here.”
Manchester United moved into fourth place, level with Tottenham Hotspur on 61 points having played a game more, as Solskjaer got his permanent reign off to a winning start with victory over unfortunate Watford.
Goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial secured United’s win, even though this was far from their most convincing performance under the Norwegian as Watford deserved more for their enterprise than a late Abdoulaye Doucoure consolation.
Still, the win lifted United above Arsenal, who host Newcastle United on Monday.
At the other end of the table, as 19th-placed Fulham’s defeat left them a step closer to what looks certain relegation, Huddersfield’s even more inevitable demotion to the Championship was confirmed with a 2-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.
The Terriers became only the second team in the Premier League era to be relegated before the end of March as they lost to goals from Luka Milivojevic and Patrick van Aanholt.
Wins for 17th-placed Burnley, 2-0 at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, and 16th-placed Southampton, 1-0 at Brighton & Hove Albion, ensured their fate was sealed as they matched Derby County’s record, set in 2008, for the earliest relegation from the Premier League after 32 games.
Leicester City marked an emotional day for the club on what would have been the 61st birthday of their late owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in a helicopter accident in October, by beating Bournemouth 2-0 at the King Power Stadium.
His image was flashed up on the big screen along with the words “Always in our hearts” before the match and, in the 61st minute, the fans rose to applaud his memory.
In the day’s late game, West Ham United, after six unbeaten matches at the London Stadium, came unstuck with a lacklustre 2-0 home defeat by Everton
Goals from Kurt Zouma and Bernard moved Everton above the Hammers into ninth, one point behind Wolves and Leicester.