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Gundogan brace takes Manchester City four points clear at top of Premier League

MANCHESTER — Hard-charging Manchester City went four points clear of Arsenal at the top the Premier League on Saturday, beating Leeds United 2-1 with a pair of near-identical goals from Ilkay Gundogan, stretching their winning league run to 10 games.

City’s prolific striker Erling Haaland graciously handed the ball to Gundogan to take a penalty kick in the 84th minute for what would have been a hat-trick, but Leeds keeper Joel Robles had no trouble turning aside his shot.

Pep Guardiola’s side had run circles around Leeds with numerous excellent scoring chances before Gundogan struck in the 19th minute from the edge of the 18-yard box off a pass from Riyad Mahrez. Mahrez teed up Gundogan again eight minutes later in a carbon copy of his first goal.

“We played an exceptional game,” Guardiola told BBC. “Our possession game was really good. First half was exceptional. We were maybe not as clinical as we should be.

“The second half, we cannot forget it is three games in six days with a lot of mental pressure. At the end, the game could be over with the penalty. But they score and we have to suffer. But we played really, really good.”

Guardiola had wanted Haaland to take the penalty, yelling: “You take it!”

“The game is not over,” the Spaniard said. “It shows how nice and generous Erling is. If it is 4-0 with 10 minutes left, OK. But at 2-0? Erling is the best penalty taker right now so he has to take it.”

Rodrigo Moreno pulled one back for Leeds in the 85th minute.

With four games left, City have 82 points to Arsenal’s 78, and if the Gunners lose to Newcastle on Sunday, City will be the overwhelming favourites to lock in a third consecutive title.

Leeds, playing their first game under interim manager Sam Allardyce who was parachuted in in a last-ditch effort to avoid relegation, are teetering in 17th place — and all three teams below them have a game in hand.

Allardyce admitted it looked bound to be a blowout at halftime, but Leeds “changed in terms of pushing up the pitch.”

Despite numerous scoring chances, and with the Etihad Stadium crowd cheering him on, Haaland was unable to extend the Premier League single-season record of 35 goals he set earlier in the week.

The 22-year-old Norwegian, who is running roughshod over the record books in his debut Premier League season, could have had at least a couple of goals on Saturday, clanging one shot off the crossbar, another off the post, and narrowly missing a couple of others that left him shaking his head in frustration.

“Today Erling could have scored two or three goals. He played incredibly well, in his movement and everything… how he fought for us,” Guardiola said.

Treble-chasing Manchester City, who play Real Madrid on Tuesday in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, are unbeaten in 20 games through all competitions.

The odds were stacked against Leeds, who have been in freefall for weeks and have the leakiest defence in the top flight, with 69 goals conceded in 35 games. — Reuters