MANCHESTER— Erling Haaland equalled the Premier League record for goals in a 38-game season yesterday as Manchester City closed the gap on leaders Arsenal to just three points after a day of drama in the top-four race.
The Norway forward netted twice in the first half of City’s 3-1 win over relegation-threatened Leicester to reach 32 goals — the same as Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah’s tally in 2017/18.
John Stones opened the scoring at the Etihad Stadium before a goal from the penalty spot and a clever dinked finish from Haaland.
Pep Guardiola substituted the 22-year-old at half-time, denying him the chance to hunt down the overall single-season record of 34 goals in the Premier League era — set in the days of 42 games per side.
Leicester, with Dean Smith in charge for the first time, pulled a goal back in the second half through Kelechi Iheanacho but they slumped to a fourth straight defeat and remain second from bottom of the table.
City, chasing a fifth Premier League title in six years, are on 70 points, three behind Arsenal with eight games to go — the Gunners play West Ham today.
The two teams meet at the Etihad on April 26 in a potential title-decider — City’s next league fixture.
“Like I said lately, it is win, win and win,” said Guardiola, whose side have now won 10 consecutive games in all competitions.
“They have had an incredible run this season and I don’t think they are going to drop many points, so what we have to do is be there.
“It was important for us to win today to arrive for the ‘final’ we have against them in the next Premier League game.”
Aston Villa put themselves in the mix for a top-four finish by beating Newcastle 3-0 for a fifth straight league win as Tottenham also lost.
Villa are still six points off the top four, but are in red-hot form after a seventh win in eight games.
Ollie Watkins, who has now scored 11 goals in 12 matches, netted twice after Jacob Ramsey had fired Unai Emery’s men into an early lead.
Emery, who took over at Villa Park in October, was cautious about his side’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League despite their impressive run.
“We can think about being a candidate for a Europa (League) position but the top four is very, very difficult,” said the Spaniard.
“Of course if we keep winning we can add for the next weeks, but not now.”
Newcastle had won their previous five games to climb to third but barely laid a glove on Villa to leave Eddie Howe’s men looking over their shoulders.
With Manchester United not in action until Sunday, at Nottingham Forest, Tottenham had the chance to move into the top four but blew it as Bournemouth took a potentially decisive step towards survival with a 3-2 win.
Son Heung-min fired Spurs into an early lead, but the Cherries hit back with goals from Matias Vina and Dominic Solanke.
Substitute Arnaut Danjuma looked to have salvaged a point for Spurs when he scored against his old club two minutes from time but Dango Ouattara curled home in the 95th minute to lift Bournemouth six points clear of the relegation zone.
Brighton boosted their chances of European football with a 2-1 win at Chelsea to prolong Frank Lampard’s wait for a first victory since returning to Stamford Bridge as interim manager.
Conor Gallagher opened the scoring for Chelsea but Danny Welbeck came off the bench to equalise just before half-time and Paraguayan teenager Julio Enciso won the game in spectacular style.
Crystal Palace and Wolves edged towards safety but it was a terrible day for Everton, who lost 3-1 at home to Fulham.
Bottom side Southampton look increasingly likely to be relegated after Eberechi Eze scored twice for Palace in a 2-0 win at St Mary’s to clinch a third consecutive victory for the Eagles since Roy Hodgson returned as manager.
Wolves are seven points clear of the drop zone after they beat Brentford 2-0 thanks to goals from Diego Costa and Hwang Hee-chan.
Everton remain outside the relegation zone only on goal difference after they were sunk by goals from Fulham’s Harrison Reed, Harry Wilson and Dan James. — AFP