MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Pep Guardiola might have thought he’d be taking over the champions of England when he agreed to join Manchester City from next season.
If City’s current form is anything to go by, the world’s best manager may be coaching a side in the Europa League.
City’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United on Sunday, courtesy of another goal by teenager Marcus Rashford, didn’t only end its realistic chances of winning the Premier League. It also left the club under severe threat of being displaced in the top four in an increasingly fraught race for Champions League qualification.
United and West Ham are only one point behind fourth-place City, which has won just one of its last six league games and has got a Champions League quarterfinal match against Paris Saint-Germain to further complicate its upcoming schedule.
First-place Leicester is now 15 points clear of City. Tottenham, though, hasn’t given up hope of reeling in the surprise leaders.
Harry Kane scored two goals for the second straight league game as Spurs beat Bournemouth 3-0 to stay five points adrift of Leicester.
The title race looks to be down to two teams, although third-place Arsenal — 11 points behind Leicester with a game in hand — could still have a say.
Liverpool’s improbable ambitions of making the top four were hit after squandering a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at Southampton. Liverpool could have moved four points behind City with a win, but that honor instead goes to Southampton in another example of the unpredictable nature of this campaign.
At the other end of the standings, Newcastle and Sunderland drew 1-1 in the northeast derby and both remain in the relegation zone. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored an 83rd-minute equalizer for Newcastle, which avoided a seventh straight loss to its fierce rival.
City became the latest team to be exposed by Rashford, United’s new star striker.
The 18-year-old Rashford took his tally to five goals in eight games since being plucked from United’s youth team to address a striker crisis last month. Playing in his first Manchester derby, Rashford slipped past Martin Demichelis and slotted a finish under the body of goalkeeper Joe Hart for the 16th-minute winner.
Demichelis had a day to forget. Embarrassed for the goal, he was lucky not to concede a penalty for chopping down Rashford near the end of the first half. Then, he underhit a back pass to Hart early in the second half, causing the goalkeeper to stretch to make a clearance and hurt his calf muscle. Hart was carried off on a stretcher, with City having already lost Raheem Sterling to injury.
Demichelis was substituted in the 53rd minute, after which City looked more composed and wasted a series of chances to equalize.
United held on despite looking jaded near the end, having played Liverpool in the Europa League on Thursday, and picked up maximum points from a match United manager Louis van Gaal had dubbed “do or die” for his side’s top-four hopes.
“Now it is in our hands,” Van Gaal said.