Man City beats West Brom, virtually seals top-4 place in EPL
By STEVE DOUGLAS
MANCHESTER, England (AP) Pablo Zabaleta got a rousing send-off. Yaya Toure scored perhaps a farewell goal. Their team swept to a convincing win to virtually guarantee Champions League qualification.
It was a night that couldn't get much better for Manchester City.
They beat West Bromwich Albion 3-1 on an emotionally charged night at Etihad Stadium to move up to third place in the English Premier League and ensure only a series of freak results will deny Pep Guardiola's side a top-four finish.
Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne scored first-half goals in the space of less than two minutes before Toure, who is waiting to discover if he'll be offered a new contract after seven years at the club, strolled through West Brom's defense to stroke in a third goal that brought the home fans to their feet.
They were up again minutes later as Zabaleta, the popular Argentina right back who will leave City in the offseason after nine years, came on the 61st minute to a rip-roaring reception for his last home game.
"It was a perfect night, especially for Pablo," Guardiola said. "When I see what I saw tonight, I see the impact he had for the club. To see women crying on the screen, it means a lot. He is a legend for the club."
West Brom got a goal back in the 86th through Hal Robson-Kanu, the only negative for City.
City, which is away to Watford on the final day of the season on Sunday, is a point ahead of fourth-placed Liverpool and three points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal. City has a superior goal difference of 6 over Arsenal, so is in a very strong position.
The evening began with City fans waving Argentina flags and singing songs about Zabaleta, a firm favorite at the Etihad since joining City the day before Sheikh Mansour's takeover of the club in 2008.
It ended with the man himself getting a guard of honor as he walked off the field following a long post-match tribute in the presence of his wife and son, during which he received tributes and video messages on the big screen from former teammates - including Mario Balotelli - and was handed a framed shirt and lifetime season ticket.
Fighting back the tears, Zabaleta ended his speech by saying: "From the bottom of my heart, thank you to the fans."
The occasion might have had the feel of a testimonial by the end, but it was serious business for City at the start, with a victory vital to keep a top-four finish in the team's hands.
Guardiola chose to promote top scorer Sergio Aguero from the bench and partner him with Gabriel Jesus in an exciting-looking front two.
Unsurprisingly, both were involved in the goals.
Gabriel Jesus was on hand to tap home from inside the six-yard box in the 27th, for his sixth goal in seven league starts since arriving at City in January, after De Bruyne burst into the left side of the area and sent in a low cross.
Gabriel Jesus returned the favor inside two minutes, his layoff at the edge of the area met with a cushioned side-foot volley by De Bruyne that curled inside the far post.
West Brom was being so outclassed that it was a matter of how many City would score. At one point in the first half, lone West Brom striker Salomon Rondon, inside his own half and with nothing on, even attempted a shot that was blocked on the halfway line.
When the players resumed for the second half, the countdown was on for the introduction of Zabaleta. Guardiola obliged just after the hour mark, by which time Toure had exchanged passes with Aguero and slotted a finish between goalkeeper Ben Foster's legs.
Zabaleta high-fived Vincent Kompany - his long-time defensive ally - as he made his way to right back and each of his touches, tackles, and fouls was applauded.
Before the final whistle, he was handed the captain's armband and City duly gave him the man-of-the-match award for his half-hour on the field.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80
Updated May 16, 2017