Manchester City will head into the new year with an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League after Phil Foden`s first-half goal earned them a 1-0 win at Brentford on Wednesday.
Foden stroked home in the 16th minute from Kevin de Bruyne`s pass and it proved sufficient to seal a 10th successive league win for Pep Guardiola`s relentless champions.
With Liverpool losing at Leicester City on Tuesday and Chelsea held by Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday, City have seized complete control of the title race.
They were far from their slick best in west London, however, with Brentford always looking capable of salvaging something.
De Bruyne did hit the post after the break and both Foden and Aymeric Laporte had goals disallowed as City sought to give themselves a cushion.
But City held on with few real scares to reach 50 points from 20 games, with Chelsea on 42 from 20 and Liverpool on 41 having played one game less than the top two.
Goal and three points_ no better way to end the year! ___ pic.twitter.com/3WClae1auu
— Phil Foden (@PhilFoden) December 29, 2021
It is the fourth time Guardiola has enjoyed a 10-game winning sequence since becoming City manager.
“Round Christmas you have to keep your foot on the gas and keep focused. This team is doing that,” Foden said.
Foden was left out of City`s starting line-up in their two previous league games against Newcastle United and Leicester City after incurring the wrath of Guardiola for having a night on the town with team mate Jack Grealish.
Restored to the starting eleven at Brentford, the 21-year-old made amends with a finish of real quality.
Seconds after Joao Cancelo had cleared off the line to deny Brentford the lead, City went ahead in clinical fashion.
A flowing move ended with the ball played back to De Bruyne whose instinctive first-time pass picked out for the fractionally onside Foden. He feathered a volley past Alvaro
Fernandez for his fifth league goal of the season.
Brentford had started the game in lively fashion with City keeper Ederson reacting well to keep out a cross that deflected off of Ruben Dias.
City dominated early in the second half with Foden heading wide from another De Bruyne delivery before having a goal disallowed for offside.
Brentford rode their luck as De Bruyne smacked a left-footer against the base of the post before Laporte`s majestic header was ruled out for a marginal VAR offside decision.
Despite lacking the flair that had seen them score 17 goals in their last three games, City showed they can also grind out wins when required and are beginning to look unstoppable.
Brentford remain in 14th place — nine points above the relegation zone.
Chelsea suffered another stumble in their faltering title challenge on Wednesday when they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Brighton & Hove Albion after an injury-time equaliser by substitute Danny Welbeck.
The European champions, hit recently by a string of injuries and COVID cases, went ahead when Romelu Lukaku rose the highest to meet a corner from Mason Mount in the 28th minute, taking advantage of a makeshift Brighton defence that was missing centre-half stalwarts Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.
But a spirited Brighton pushed hard for their first ever goal at Stamford Bridge and had Chelsea pinned back for long periods in the second half.
The Blues reasserted a degree of control when coach Thomas Tuchel sent on N`Golo Kante as a substitute to shore up his flagging midfield.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 29, 2021
But just when it seemed as if the hosts were going to hang on for three vital points, Welbeck rose between defenders Antonio Rudiger and Trevoh Chalobah to head in a Marc Cucurella cross in the 91st minute.
Compounding Chelsea`s problems, Chelsea wing-back Reece James hobbled off in the first half and fellow defender Andreas Christensen also needed treatment and was replaced by Chalobah at the break.
“We have simply way too many players who we don’t know what we can demand,” Tuchel told reporters after seeing his side held to a 1-1 draw for the fourth time in five home league games.
“We have seven COVID cases, we have four or five players out for six weeks,” the German said when asked about Chelsea` chances of winning the league. “Why should we compete in a title race?”
James suffered a hamstring injury while Christensen went off with a back problem, he said.
Brighton manager Graham Potter praised his players for pushing right to the end to get the point.
“I thought it was a fantastic performance from the players really full of courage full of quality,” Potter said.
The draw pushed Chelsea into second place in the Premier League table on 42 points, one more than Liverpool who have a game in hand and eight points behind leaders Manchester City.
Chelsea are due to play both Liverpool and Man City in the first two weeks of January.
Brighton sit in 10th place on 24 points.