City moved within a point of securing Champions League football after a comfortable 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion. First-half goals from Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne and a Yaya Toure strike after the break sealed the points against an Albion side who offered little threat throughout the game until Robson-Kanu claimed a late consolation. This, however, was always going to be Pablo Zabaleta’s night, with the Argentine cult hero coming on to a standing ovation on 62 minutes to play one last time at the Etihad Stadium. The City fans had sung his name from the first minute until the last as they paid tribute to their departing hero.
What happened? The opening exchanges were a little scrappy as the Baggies set their stall out to contain the Blues. Few teams have managed to defend successfully against Pep Guardiola's side for the full 90 minutes so it was a risky tactic at best, but for the first 25 minutes or so they kept City at bay. Aleks Kolarov, recalled to the starting XI along with Sergio Aguero, whipped a free-kick over the Albion wall after 13 minutes but Ben Foster palmed the ball away comfortably enough. Then an excellent spin and through ball for Leroy Sane saw the German winger drag his shot wide from 15 yards. It took 25 minutes for the visitors to warm the gloves of Willy Caballero but Nacer Chadli’s free-kick was easily stopped by the Blues’ keeper. The breakthrough came shortly after with a terrific team goal. Yaya Toure and Aguero combined to send De Bruyne into the box and the Belgian’s low cross was turned in by Gabriel Jesus from close range. The home fans had barely finished their celebrations when the Blues doubled their lead and the excellent Aguero, dropping deeper and causing havoc, was once again involved. Kun found De Bruyne who in turn looked to play in Sane who was tackled but the ball fell invitingly into the path of De Bruyne who lashed an unstoppable dipping shot past Foster to make it 2-0. There were further chances before the break with Aguero and Sane seeing half chances narrowly miss the target. The Blues continued where they’d left off after the break, completely dominating proceedings and on 57 minutes yet another excellent goal ended the game as a contest. Yaya Toure was looking for an opening when he spotted the chance of a one-two and Aguero duly obliged, leaving the Ivorian clear on goal and he tucked the ball under the advancing Foster with aplomb. Then, the moment the home fans had waited for as Zaba finally entered the fray as a replacement for David Silva. His every touch cheered, the home fans were willing him to cap his last home game with a goal and though Gabriel Jesus came close on a couple of occasions, it was West Brom who had the final say with a consolation goal three minutes from time from Hal Robson-Kanu.
Key moment In such a one-sided game, it was the appearance of Zabaleta on the hour-mark that got the Etihad Stadium on their feet and injected a party atmosphere for the last half-hour or so – plus every touch he had was cheered like a goal!
What it means… With City and Arsenal both winning on Tuesday evening, little has changed at the top but the Blues are just one point away from guaranteeing Champions League football. Arsenal face Everton on the final day and Liverpool host Middlesbrough so the Blues will need to win to take third or draw to take at least fourth - assuming Arsenal and Liverpool both win.
What’s next? City wrap up the 2016/17 campaign with a trip to Watford this Sunday. There is everything to play for and the Blues will need to leave Hertfordshire without losing (see above) and claim a top four spot.
Manchester City (3): Caballero, Kompany (Stones 77), Kolarov, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Touré (Fernando 79), De Bruyne, Sane, Silva (Zabaleta 60), Gabriel Jesus, Aguero
West Brom (1): Foster, Nyom, Yacob, Evans, Livermore (Morrison 64), Rondon (Robson-Kanu 69), Brunt, Marc Wilson (McClean 51), Chadli, Fletcher, Dawson
Goals: Gabriel Jesus 27, De Bruyne 29, Yaya Touré 57, Robson Kanu 86