By Peter Hall
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester City closed the gap on Premier League leaders Liverpool to three points with a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday, while a hat-trick by American Christian Pulisic helped steer Chelsea to a 4-2 victory at Burnley.
City struggled to get going in the first half at the Etihad Stadium, with Villa having several chances to take the lead, but three second-half goals saw the home side move to 22 points and put pressure on Liverpool, who host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Chelsea moved level on 20 points with third-placed Leicester City — who recorded the biggest ever English top-flight away victory with a 9-0 mauling of Southampton on Friday — after a Pulisic-inspired success at Burnley’s Turf Moor.
City, though, aiming to avoid a second successive home league defeat, looked a shadow of the unstoppable juggernaut that stormed to the title last season, with Villa troubling the champions in the first half in the pouring rain.
However, just 20 seconds into the second half, Raheem Sterling latched onto a Gabriel Jesus flick to score his 13th goal of the season in all competitions to give City the lead.
Kevin De Bruyne’s cross seemed to go all the way into the bottom corner for City’s second, with the goal initially awarded to the Belgian, but a Goal Accreditation Panel review after the match adjudged David Silva to have got a touch.
VAR was heavily involved at The Etihad, with City’s second goal undergoing a lengthy review for a potential offside call against Sterling, but it was allowed to stand, much to Villa’s frustration.
Ilkay Gundogan made sure of the three points with a scissor kick finish, with Fernandinho’s late red card tarnishing the result for the hosts.
“Six days ago we were eight points (behind Liverpool), now it’s three,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “That’s good experience for us but they have to play tomorrow. I’m not concerned with the table.
“If we play like we did in the first half we’ll be in the relegation positions.”
U.S international Pulisic has been forced to wait for his chance to really make a mark on English football following a close-season move to Chelsea after he signed for the west London club in January but stayed at Borussia Dortmund on loan.
However, making his first start in the league since the end of August, Pulisic registered his first goal in English football in the 21st minute with fine finish, and never looked back.
The 21-year-old added a second on the stroke of halftime, before a brilliant header sealed his hat-trick and made him the youngest Chelsea player to score a Premier League treble.
“I think he (Pulisic) has had to bide his time but when he has come in he has done really well,” Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori told Sky Sports. “And to score a hat-trick, there’s nothing better and I’m really happy for him.
“Winning is a habit and the longer we keep on going, who knows where we can end up.”
A superb solo effort from Willian made it 4-0 before Burnley scored two late consolation goals but Chelsea saw out their seventh consecutive win in all competitions as Frank Lampard’s young side continue to look impressive.
However, the pressure is mounting on Everton manager Marco Silva as his side slipped to a sixth defeat of the season in controversial circumstances in a 3-2 loss at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Defender Lucas Digne’s own goal deep into stoppage time completed a superb comeback after Everton had led 2-1 going into the last 10 minutes of the match.
With Everton looking like securing their first away win of the season, livewire Brighton forward Aaron Connolly appealed for a foul in the penalty area by Michael Keane.
Initially, the referee did not give the spot-kick but it became the first to be awarded in the Premier League by VAR after a review, and Neal Maupay put the ball straight down the middle to make it 2-2, before Digne’s misfortune.
Sheffield United moved up to seventh after a 1-1 draw at West Ham United, while Watford and Bournemouth drew 0-0.
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris)