MANCHESTER – Manchester City's 4-1 rout of Liverpool on Saturday was marred by more off-field trouble as one of English soccer's fiercest rivalries turned toxic again.
Despite securing a statement win in the race for the Premier League title, the defending champions were left to condemn an apparent attack on their rivals' team bus and address “hateful” chants from its supporters.
Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, was forced to defend his touchline antics, after accusations he showed a lack of respect by celebrating directly in front of Liverpool substitutes Kostas Tsimikas and Arthur Melo.
“I was happy and I said how nice our goal was. That’s all,” the City manager said when asked about his actions. "Do you think it’s a lack of respect? Ah OK, sorry. I’m so sorry.”
As if those incidents weren't enough to sour the mood around the club's Etihad Stadium, Arsenal's 4-1 win against Leeds later in the day restored the league leaders' eight-point advantage at the top, having played one more game than City.
City and Liverpool have been the dominant forces of English soccer in recent years and the battle for supremacy has turned ugly during that time.
Fans of both clubs have been criticized for their actions, including an attack on City's team bus in 2018, while Guardiola had to avoid being hit by coins during a game at Anfield earlier this season.
Liverpool complained of “vile chants” during that game and said its stadium had been vandalized with graffiti.
On this occasion, it was Liverpool's bus that was targeted.
“We understand an object was thrown towards the coach in a residential area,” City said in a statement. “Incidents of this kind are totally unacceptable, and we strongly condemn the actions of the individual(s) responsible.”
The club said it was “disappointed” by the chants from some of its fans.
“We regret any offense these chants may have caused and will continue to work with supporter groups and officials from both clubs to eradicate hateful chanting from this fixture,” City added.
On the field, City produced one of its best performances of the season, which Guardiola described as “almost perfect” as his players made light of Erling Haaland's absence due to a groin injury.
But Arsenal remains out in front with a rout of its own against Leeds.
GREALISH STANDS OUT
At a cost of $139 million, Jack Grealish should be able to do everything. And in the space of a minute at Etihad Stadium against Liverpool, he showed his range of talents with two game-changing moments.
With Liverpool leading 1-0 after Mohamed Salah's opener, Grealish chased down the striker and cut out the danger as he looked set to extend the visitors' lead.
Almost immediately, Grealish then turned provider, setting up Julian Alavarez to even the score.
Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan struck in the second half before Grealish rounded off the scoring with City's fourth.
“When it’s going well, there’s nothing better,” Grealish said. “I feel back to my normal self, feel fit and back to confidence. Scoring and getting the assist, I’m buzzing.”
LIVERPOOL SLUMPS AGAIN
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp cut a dejected figure afterward — and for good reason.
Liverpool is running out of games to salvage its season and a place in the Champions League.
Brighton's 3-3 draw with Brentford saw both of those teams leapfrog the Merseyside club in the battle for European places.
Liverpool is seven points behind fourth-place Tottenham with only one game in hand and five off fifth-place Newcastle having played a game more.
Klopp said his team was fortunate not to be on the end of an even heavier loss after City dominated the second half.
Assessing the game, Klopp said City "could pretty much do what they wanted because the spaces were too big, and so we are rather lucky that they only scored one more.”
ARSENAL POWERS ON
Arsenal issued the perfect response to City's win with a 4-1 victory of its own against Leeds.
And it was former City striker Gabriel Jesus who set Mikel Arteta's team on course for this latest victory with two goals at Emirates Stadium.
The Brazilian had not scored since October, although that dry spell did include a lengthy period out with injury.
Ben White and Granit Xhaka also scored for Arsenal, with Rasmus Kristensen on the mark for relegation-fighting Leeds.
Arsenal has won all seven of its league games since losing to City in February.
POTTER UNDER PRESSURE
If Chelsea fans thought Graham Potter had turned a corner, it might be time to think again.
A 2-0 loss at home to Aston Villa saw the Champions League quarterfinalists drop into the bottom half of the league in 11th place. It is also a result that is likely to place further scrutiny on Potter's position after this latest blow to his early reign at Stamford Bridge.
There were boos from the home fans after the final whistle.
“After a defeat there is always a disappointment. There is always a feeling we have not moved forward, that’s fair to say,” Potter said.
He added: “I don’t like to blame anybody, I have to take responsibility.”
Roy Hodgson got off to a winning start after coming out of retirement in a bid to turn Crystal Palace's season around.
And the manager left it late to secure a 2-1 win against Leicester and Palace’s first victory of 2023, with Jean-Philippe Mateta's decisive goal coming in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Bournemouth climbed out of the relegation zone with a comeback 2-1 win against Fulham. Second-half goals from Marcus Tavernier and Dominic Solanke turned the game around after Andreas Pereira put Fulham ahead in the 16th.
And the points were shared between Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton in a 1-1 draw at the City Ground.
Brennan Johnson's goal looked set to earn Forest a first win in seven until Daniel Podence equalized in the 83rd.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson