Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola continued to douse his side’s chance of reeling in runaway leaders Chelsea despite cutting their rivals’ lead at the Premier League summit to eight points with victory at Bournemouth.
City chalked up their third successive league win and seventh in 10 matches since mid-December courtesy of Raheem Sterling’s first-half strike and an own goal from Tyrone Mings in the second period.
Their latest triumph saw the two-time Premier League champions surge ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham into second place, although only four points separate City and Manchester United in sixth.
“The gap [between City and Chelsea] is still so, so big and it is so difficult to win all the games,” said Guardiola. “The gap is too big. Chelsea didn’t win at Burnley [on Sunday] but they played so solid.
“The importance for us is to focus on us, game by game, and improve our performance. My feeling in the last few games is that our performance is much better. I am so happy for all the players.”
The evening was far from problem free for City, however, as Brazil starlet Gabriel Jesus, who had scored three goals in as many starts, limped off inside 15 minutes with a foot problem.
“Tomorrow we will know exactly but I am going to pray tonight that it is not going to be a big issue,” added Guardiola.
Defeat consigned Bournemouth to a third successive defeat – the Cherries have won just one of their last 10 matches across all competitions – and remain 14th, six points clear of the relegation zone.
“We have to be positive,” said Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe. “We go into a little break in the Premier League and we have to come back refreshed and ready to fight for our survival.
“There’s no doubt that’s the situation we’re in and we can grow from this experience and come out a better team.”
Visiting goalkeeper Willy Caballero was quick off his line in the early stages to thwart Jordan Ibe with a perfectly timed sliding tackle following an incisive one-two between the former Liverpool winger and on-loan Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.
The contest was a high-tempo affair and shortly before the half hour mark Sterling’s effort was diverted onto the post by Cherries defender Steve Cook, while Kevin de Bruyne failed to convert the rebound.
Sterling, however, was not to be denied and the 22-year-old netted his seventh goal in five appearances against Bournemouth on 29 minutes, applying a calm far-post finish to Leroy Sane’s tempting, if deflected, ball into the six-yard box.
Bournemouth were denied a near-instant leveller after Josh King clinically swept home, only for referee Neil Swarbrick to penalise the former Manchester United winger for a tug on John Stones’s shirt in the build up.
Suffering the same fate as Jesus and Bournemouth skipper Simon Francis, who departed with a hamstring injury, Wilshere was forced shortly before the break with an ankle issue.
Bournemouth played some lively football but were unable to prise open City’s backline, while their best opportunity was a curling attempt in the 67th minute by Harry Arter which was tipped wide by Caballero.
City doubled their advantage and all but settled matters a mere two minutes later. Fernandinho released Sterling down the left flank and his low cross was prodded past Artur Boruc by substitute Mings while under pressure from substitute Sergio Aguero.
The impressive Sane danced through the Bournemouth defence before rattling the crossbar, while the Germany forward dragged wide deep into injury time.