Man City ends historic year on high and just two points off EPL lead

 
Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City, interacts with Jack Grealish of Manchester City as he is substituted off during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Sheffield United at Etihad Stadium on December 30, 2023 in Manchester, England. 

After the greatest year in Manchester City's history, Pep Guardiola's players look hungry for another.

The defending English Premier League champion ended a trophy-laden 2023 with a 2-0 win against Sheffield United on Saturday.

City moved up to third, just two points behind leader Liverpool. That's not bad considering Guardiola's team has struggled to hit the heights of last season's treble-winning campaign and has been without the talismanic Kevin De Bruyne since August.

The Belgium international is on his way back from a hamstring injury and City is finding form after a recent run of just one win in six league games.

“We’re not top of the league, Liverpool are better," Guardiola said. “We’ve had injuries and some problems. Our level is really good I would say and we are there.”

City added the Club World Cup last week to the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and European Super Cup trophies it won over the past 12 months, and all were on display ahead of kickoff at Etihad Stadium, where it hasn't lost all year.

“When you’re walking out and you see five trophies, it hits home to you who you are playing against and what they’ve achieved,” Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder said.

Goals from Rodri and Julian Alvarez helped City secure back-to-back wins since returning from the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia. De Bruyne was an unused substitute, while Erling Haaland was still absent with a foot injury that has kept him out since the start of the month.

The return of both of those players should only strengthen Guardiola's attempt to make history by winning an unprecedented fourth Premier League in a row.
MAN UNITED LOSE AGAIN

Manchester United lost for the 14th time this season at Nottingham Forest by 2-1.

Morgan Gibbs-White scored an 82nd-minute winner at the City Ground.

United went behind initially to Nicolas Dominguez's opener in the 64th and leveled through Marcus Rashford in the 78th.

But that good work was undone when Forest counterattacked and Gibbs-White found the back of the net from the edge of the box.

United has lost nine of its 20 league games and has not won its last four away from home. It was seventh on the table.

It won against Aston Villa on Tuesday but the latest defeat typified the inconsistency of Ten Hag's team.

United has already been knocked out of the Champions League and League Cup and is in a battle to secure a top-four finish in the top-flight. It is nine points off fourth-placed Arsenal, and played one game more.

Forest, meanwhile, has quickly found form under new manager Nuno Espírito Santo, who has led the team to back-to-back wins against Newcastle and United over the Christmas holidays.
VILLA DRAMA

City remained behind second-placed Aston Villa after Douglas Luiz scored an 89th-minute penalty in a 3-2 win against second-from-bottom Burnley.

Villa was recently held at home by bottom side Sheffield United and looked like dropping more points after Burnley twice came back from a goal down.

But, having also lost at Manchester United on Tuesday, Villa got back to winning ways through Luiz's spot kick.

It secured a 26th league win of 2023 for Unai Emery's team, which is second to Liverpool on goal difference.

PALMER DOUBLE

Chelsea fans will be glad to see the back of 2023. A mostly miserable year at least saw the London club sign a player who has quickly become a fan favorite.

In a season of few highlights, Cole Palmer has provided more than most. With two goals and an assist against Luton on Saturday, he helped Chelsea end the year with a 3-2 win.

Palmer was signed from Manchester City for 40 million pounds ($50.7 million) in the offseason and it has looked like money well spent.

The 21-year-old England forward has been Chelsea's best player in another troubled campaign under the ownership of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.

His double at Kenilworth Road made it eight goals in 16 league appearances, to add to the two he scored for City in the Community Shield and European Super Cup final before his move.

He also provided the assist for Noni Madueke in a game that saw Luton stage a late fightback through goals from Ross Barkley and Elijah Adebayo.

WOLVES RUN

Wolves made it three wins out of three in the league over the Christmas holidays by beating Everton 3-0 at Molineux.

Goals from Maximilian Kilman, Matheus Cunha and Craig Dawson saw Gary O’Neil's team follow up a 4-1 win against Brentford on Wednesday in impressive style.

Everton, meanwhile, has lost three games on the run after four straight wins moved it out of the relegation zone.

Crystal Palace got a first win since the start of November by coming from behind to beat Brentford 3-1 at Selhurst Park, with Michael Olise scoring twice.

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