Zabaleta bows out as Manchester City climb to third

172

Manchester City edged ever closer to a guaranteed place in next season’s Champions League after an entertaining 3-1 win over West Bromwich at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure scored the goals for Pep Guardiola’s side and barring a freak combination of results on the final day of the league season, City will finish in the top four. City will go into Sunday’s trip to Watford in third place, two points above Liverpool and three clear of Arsenal, knowing victory will rubber-stamp direct qualification for the Champions League group phase.
But the evening was as much about popular City defender Pablo Zabaleta, who played out the final minutes of his nine-year stay with the club after coming on as a second-half substitute.
When City captain Vincent Kompany was replaced after 77 minutes and handed Zabaleta his captain’s armband, the Argentinian appeared to be fighting back tears.
Two goals in as many minutes midway through the first half guaranteed City victory, but given the lack of ambition and enthusiasm shown by the visitors, that outcome had looked all but certain direct from kick-off.
Jesus gave City the lead in the 27th minute with his sixth goal in just seven starts since returning to the side from injury at the start of February.
It was carved out by the impressive De Bruyne, whose cross from the left-hand byline allowed the young Brazilian to turn the ball into an open net.
The build-up play had been excellent, featuring a Toure pass and Sergio Aguero back-heel. Just two minutes later, Albion caved in again to another well worked goal as De Bruyne strode onto a loose ball and curled a superb, half-volleyed finish past the diving Ben Foster from the edge of the box. It seemed a question of how many more City could score — and when Guardiola would throw on Zabaleta for his swansong.—AFP