Manchester City brushed aside the deadline day disappointment of failing to sign Riyad Mahrez to power on at the top of the Premier League.
The leaders pulled out of a potential deal for the Algeria forward after baulking at Leicester’s rumoured £95m asking price, but that hardly seemed to affect their current star man Kevin De Bruyne on Wednesday night.
The Belgium playmaker was at his inspirational best as City extended their lead at the summit to 15 points with a comfortable 3-0 win over bottom side West Brom at the Etihad Stadium.
De Bruyne created the opening goal and scored the second himself before Sergio Aguero wrapped up proceedings with a late third.
Combined with defeats for Manchester United and Chelsea, and a successful debut for record signing Aymeric Laporte, it made for an excellent night for a delighted manager Pep Guardiola.
The City boss said: “I’m so happy. I feel that is one of the best performances we have played this season. Playing better than the way we played here is quite difficult. It was a joy to watch the guys play.”
There was again controversy over tackles with City substitute Brahim Diaz caught by a high, studs-up challenge from Matt Phillips.
Only on Sunday Guardiola reiterated his oft-repeated call for referees to give players better protection after a bad tackle on Leroy Sane in the FA Cup win at Cardiff. Sane is facing up to seven weeks on the sidelines with ankle ligament damage.
James McClean was also booked for a cynical attempt to foul De Bruyne in the build-up to the second goal.
Guardiola said: “We were lucky. We could have been unlucky, like with what happened three or four days ago with Leroy.
The image can speak for itself. I repeat what I said after the previous game. It was not necessary.”
Solid win! Focused, disciplined, and controlled game with three goals for our side. ⚽️
Thanks to everyone who made it out to the stadium on this cold Wednesday night! 💙 pic.twitter.com/qRyZDKngB7
— Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) January 31, 2018
Opposite number Alan Pardew did not excuse Phillips’ tackle but he felt Guardiola’s recent remarks had affected the atmosphere.
Pardew said: “He’s a winger and in desperate situations wingers can make poor challenges. It was a poor challenge, make no mistake about that.
“But I thought Pep’s comments at the weekend affected the crowd. Every challenge they were saying, ‘You’re not protecting our players, referee’.”
The result left the Baggies three points adrift at the foot of the table.
Pardew said: “It was a tough night. Against that kind of quality, we found it very difficult to get the pace of the game.
“We couldn’t do it. We never knocked the wind out of their sails. They were absolutely terrific.”
Jose Mourinho lambasted Manchester United’s “ridiculous” start against Tottenham as they conceded within 11 seconds before going on to lose at Wembley.
Spurs raced ahead as Christian Eriksen scored the third-fastest goal in Premier League history before United had even touched the ball.
The shell-shocked visitors then gifted Tottenham their second when Phil Jones turned Kieran Trippier’s cross into his own goal as Mauricio Pochettino’s side ran out deserved 2-0 winners.
Mourinho cut a glum figure as he watched on from the touchline, with Manchester City’s win against West Brom leaving United 15 points adrift of their rivals.
The Portuguese felt his players had forgotten everything from their planning ahead of the game and counted a number of errors which led to such a woeful start.
“I don’t think it is very normal to concede a goal like we did after 15 seconds,” he said.
“It is especially ridiculous because the players, they watch it before, we analyse opponents and work on opponents’ dynamics and routines.
“The players they knew the long ball, they knew that Harry Kane – before the kick-off, is already inside the opponent’s half. We knew everything.
“Then we don’t press the ball; one mistake. We don’t pick the ball in the air; second mistake. We don’t win the second ball on the ground; third mistake. We don’t cover the inside when Eriksen comes; four mistakes.
“Four mistakes after 15 seconds and you are losing 1-0 against a good team. Then I think (we had) a good reaction.”
😢 Mistake for the first goal
🤕 Same old Fellaini problem
🤔 Post-match team inquest?
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 31, 2018
Tottenham’s win puts them just two points off the top four and six clear of neighbours Arsenal.
Pochettino would not talk about new signing Lucas Moura, who was paraded on the Wembley pitch at half-time following his deadline day move from Paris St Germain, but instead wanted to praise those who had out-performed United – with Eriksen receiving a special mention.
“I think it was a great performance from Christian,” said the Spurs boss.
“Christian is such an important player for us not because today he was great and he scored.
“But he’s a player that links everyone and of course when he’s not in the team we always miss him. He’s a player that you miss on the pitch.
“I think the performance was fantastic and we played so well. The team deserved a lot of credit, a lot of credit.
“The performance was fantastic. We played again a very good team, a great team in Manchester United, reduced the gap with the top four. We need to rest and prepare for the next game.”
Antonio Conte has admitted that there is a real danger Chelsea will be without Champions League football next season following their humiliating home defeat against Bournemouth.
Conte’s toothless side were picked apart in 16 staggering second-half minutes as Callum Wilson, Junior Stanislas and former Blues defender Nathan Ake all scored to stun the Premier League champions.
The remarkable 3-0 defeat saw the Blues drop to fourth – behind Liverpool on goal difference – and just two points clear of rivals Tottenham following their comprehensive win against Manchester United.
“We must be worried [about finishing in the top four],” Conte said. “It will not be easy. I am repeating what I have said since the start of the season.
“We have to fight. We must be prepared to fight and we must be ready. I think the players are starting to understand that this season we are going to struggle for a position in the Champions League.
“If we want only to dream and not see the reality, in this case I could tell you we can fight to win the title this season. But it is important to look at the reality and to know that it will be a great success to reach a place in the Champions League.”
Olivier Giroud completed his 18-month move from Arsenal earlier on Wednesday, but despite taking his seat behind the Chelsea dugout, the France international was unavailable.
And following Michy Batshuayi’s deadline-day loan switch to Borussia Dortmund, and the absence of the injured Alvaro Morata, Conte was left without a recognised centre-forward.
Eden Hazard was called upon to lead the line, but the Blues failed to create any clear-cut chances, and Bournemouth – who until Wednesday evening had never scored three on the road against a side from the Premier League’s so-called ‘top six’ – were good value for their emphatic win.
“I think about the pressure and it is normal for a coach and manager,” Conte added. “It is normal if you are Chelsea’s coach.
“We are doing everything and giving 120 per cent, and I am approaching this squad at their maximum level, but if someone does not agree that I am here then you have to accept every situation. I am relaxed about this because I know I am doing a great job.”
🎥 “I’m doing a great job!”
— Hayters Teamwork (@HaytersTeamwork) January 31, 2018
For Bournemouth, Eddie Howe’s side are now unbeaten in six league matches, and their victory, which will surely rank as one of the finest in their history, fires them to 10th, five points clear of safety.
Asked if this was the greatest result of his managerial career, Howe replied: “This is the best because of the performance.
“When we won here at Stamford Bridge in our first season in the Premier League, it was a great moment and an historic night but we were backs to the wall and we rode our luck.
“I don’t think there was any luck connected with today. It is the best performance that we have had at this level and the result has matched it.”