Sterling sparkles as Manchester City see off Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s Trezeguet and Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo during their match at Etihad Stadium in Manchester on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 26 October 2019

Sterling sparkles as Manchester City see off Aston Villa

  • Raheem Sterling inspires a 3-0 win; Guardiola’s side closes the gap on Liverpool to 3 points

MANCHESTER: Manchester City closed the gap on Premier League leaders Liverpool to three points as Raheem Sterling inspired a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday. Pep Guardiola’s side survived a tame opening period as second half goals from Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan put Villa to the sword.
City’s second successive league victory lifted them above Leicester into second place and put pressure on Liverpool to beat Tottenham in Sunday’s clash at Anfield.
The only frustration for Guardiola was a red card for Fernandinho, who was dismissed after earning a second booking when he tugged at Keinan Davis in the 87th minute.
City were upset by Wolves in their last league fixture at the Etihad Stadium, but Guardiola had never lost back-to-back home league games as a manager and Sterling was key to ensuring that impressive record wasn’t ruined.
Sterling’s latest virtuoso display came just days after his second hat-trick of the campaign in City’s Champions League demolition of Atalanta.
The England winger has made a convincing case to be regarded as genuine superstar over the last 18 months and Villa had no answer to his intelligent movement, sublime skills and predatory finishing.
City have scored 32 league goals this season, 11 more than Liverpool, and their firepower was clear to see as they saw off Villa with their record scorer Sergio Aguero on the bench.
Gabriel Jesus made consecutive Premier League starts for the first time since December, but he squandered a chance to put City ahead when he dragged his close-range shot wide from Sterling’s pass.
No fewer than 11 City stars have suffered injuries this season, with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Rodri the latest to be sidelined for several weeks.
Guardiola admitted he was “a little bit concerned” about how City would cope, yet with Sterling on his side, anything is possible.
Sterling appealed for a penalty when his shot cannoned off Bjorn Engels’ arm, then glanced a header just wide.
John Stones was back in place of Rodri at the heart of City’s defense, but the England international looked rusty in his first start since September.
He gifted possession to Villa and Douglas Luiz almost took advantage when he tangled with City keeper Ederson, who narrowly avoided conceding a penalty in the melee.
Moments later, Stones threw himself in front of a Trezeguet shot, surviving a penalty appeal after the ball deflected onto his hand.
Despite their lack of rhythm in the first half, City should have been ahead at the break when Sterling teed up David Silva, only for the Spanish midfielder to shoot inches wide of the far post.
Usually firmly dedicated to Guardiola’s passing principles, City finally broke Villa’s stubborn resistence with a goal straight from the route one handbook.
A huge punt forward by Ederson was flicked on by Jesus into the path of the unmarked Sterling, who took one touch before shooting under Tom Heaton for his 13th goal in 14 appearances in all competitions this term.
City should have doubled their lead when Engels gave the ball away to Sterling and he picked out Jesus, but the Brazilian’s shot was brilliantly cleared off the line by Tyrone Mings.
It made no difference as Guardiola’s side were in the groove and they killed off Villa with two goals in 5 minutes.
In the 65th minute, De Bruyne swung in a cross that evaded Silva and Sterling before bouncing into the net.
A long VAR review followed to check for offside but the goal was given.
Gundogan put the result beyond doubt in the 70th minute with a clinical finish after Villa failed to clear.


Dates and bigger prize money purse announced for Saudi Cup 2021

Updated 57 min 20 sec ago

Dates and bigger prize money purse announced for Saudi Cup 2021

  • Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the JCSA, made the announcement and said he was keen to build on the success of the inaugural Saudi Cup in February 2020

RIYADH: The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia (JCSA) on Tuesday announced the return of the world’s richest horse race, the $20 million Saudi Cup, as well as a prize money increase and a new international race at the February 19-20 event.

At a series of press events held via video link from King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the JCSA, made the announcement and said he was keen to build on the success of the inaugural Saudi Cup in February this year.

“It’s hard to overstate the success of Saudi Cup 2020 when you consider that in year one of a brand-new international racing event, we attracted some of the very best horses, trainers and jockeys in the world,” he said. “We witnessed 22 individual Group or Grade 1 winners, who had accumulated an impressive 34 wins at that level between them. That would be an excellent statistic for even the most well-established race meetings in the world, let alone to have that calibre in year one.”

Prince Bandar also revealed that the prize money across the whole Saudi Cup event next year would increase from $29.2m to $30.5m.

Next year's event is scheduled a week earlier than the inaugural event, and the free-to-enter, free-to-run 1,800 meter Saudi Cup with a purse of $20 million remains the highlight of the eight-race card, which now features a boost to the prize money of three dirt races on the undercard.

The 1,600m Saudi Derby sees a prize money increase from $800,000 to $1.5m. The Obaiya Cup for Purebred Arabians held over 2,000m will now be worth $2 million, up from $1.9 million while the purse for The Jockey Club Local Handicap will double to $1 million up from $500,000.

The International Jockeys Challenge, held the Friday before the Saudi Cup will once again see 14 of the world’s best jockeys, seven women, five international men and two Saudi-based jockeys, compete.

Lisa Allpress became the first woman to win a race in Saudi Arabia this year when the four-time New Zealand champion claimed the opening leg of the challenge. The overall title was won by another woman, Swiss jockey, Sibylle Vogt with French female rider, Mickaelle Michel second and US Hall of Famer, Mike Smith third. Each of the four legs of the Jockeys Challenge are again worth $400,000 in prize money and contested on the dirt track.

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READ MORE: Saudi Cup: All eyes on Riyadh as the world’s most valuable horse race debuts

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The first staging of the Saudi Cup weekend showcased a number of “firsts” for the Kingdom and saw the JCSA plan and deliver two days of top class racing. As well as raising the profile of Saudi Arabia as a racing and sporting venue, the event successfully introduced the country’s first turf track, a surface acclaimed by jockeys and trainers, and celebrated the first female jockeys not only to ever ride under rules in the country, but also to win races.

In 2020 the Saudi Cup card saw 64 foreign runners, representing ten different countries, take on 26 locally trained rivals in the seven international races. Five of these races witnessed overseas victories. 

The event in 2021 will also see the running of a new race, held on Friday — the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap will be held over 2,100m of the turf track.

Horses must be trained in a country which is not included among the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities’ Part I nations, subject to quarantine protocols being in place and must have had at least one run in their trainer’s country prior to entry.

Locally trained horses must have had a least one run in Saudi Arabia by February 1, 2021.

“With the changes we bring to Saudi Cup 2021 we hope to offer the racing and sporting public the most interesting and intriguing race cards possible, whether they are able to be with us in person or watching from home,” said Prince Bandar.

“The 2020 event was a great beginning but now we turn our attention to year two and to taking on board the lessons we learned from year one. We will be using that knowledge to steer the JCSA and the Saudi Cup weekend to new heights, building regional and international bridges within the industry to engage with global racing fans, inspire domestic involvement and enhance not only our own offering but that of racing as a global sport.”

Tom Ryan the JCSA’s Director of Strategy and International Racing said: “To have the sport’s key players bring their horses to an untested and unproven event and furthermore to see the progressive form that those horses have displayed since is something for the JCSA to be proud of. The strength of form to come out of our event acts as a great advert to trainers and owners next year.

“Mishriff, trained in England by John Gosden, would be one we could point to having won his next three starts following his second place in the Saudi Derby, including the Group 1 Prix du Jockey-Club [French Derby].

“Call The Wind, who won the Red Sea Turf Handicap was a Group 3 winner on his first outing back in France and followed up with a runner up spot in a Group 2 and another Group 3 win.

“In addition, a number of horses have held their form since the Saudi Cup race itself. As well as the winner, Midnight Bisou, Tacitus, McKinzie, Chrysoberyl and Magic Wand have all won Group races on either a first or second appearance and indicate that horses travel well to the Saudi Cup and even return to their global campaigns having come on for the run.

Ryan acknowledged the significant global challenges to holding international sporting events saying: “It is nevertheless a difficult time to stage large-scale global events and we know that now the real hard work begins. We will keep the lines of communication open and work closely with the authorities as we seek to hold this event in the best and safest way possible.”