STOKE, England (AP) — For Manchester City, a record-setting season in the English Premier League could yet have the perfect ending.
Beating Stoke 2-0 on Monday restored City’s 16-point lead and increased the possibility that Pep Guardiola’s side could clinch the title by beating fierce rival Manchester United at home in the derby on April 7.
“Everybody in the blue side of Manchester knows it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” City captain Vincent Kompany said, with a smile.
David Silva inspired the latest win for the runaway leaders, scoring in each half by finishing off sumptuous team moves that have been the hallmark of City’s season.
Silva side-footed home a cross from fit-again winger Raheem Sterling to give City a 10th-minute lead against a Stoke team that is next to last in the standings.
City dominated thereafter and Sterling won back possession on halfway to start the move that led to the second goal, a hooked finish by Silva following a pass across the box from Gabriel Jesus.
Silva took his tally of league goals to eight in a season that has been disrupted for the playmaker while he makes regular trips back to his native Spain because his prematurely born son is receiving medical attention.
He was there for much of last week, with Guardiola allowing Silva to miss the second leg of its Champions League last-16 matchup against Basel.
“When I play football, I forget. I forget everything. So it’s good for me to play,” Silva said. “I know in my private life it’s a very hard moment, but my son is fighting. I am very happy because he’s getting stronger and fighting.”
Silva was the star player in another stroll for City against a team it beat 7-2 in October.
“He controlled the tempo perfect,” Guardiola said. “Normally people say he has skills, technical ability, and after that he cannot be an aggressive competitor. But he has both. In the bad moments, he’s there, always controlling the game.”
Sterling was influential on his return to the team after missing five games because of injury, and he should have capped his display with a goal of his own.
Running clean through in the 80th minute, Sterling delayed his attempt to round Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland. He finally did so, but Stoke’s defense recovered by then and managed to dispossess Sterling.
Stoke didn’t threaten City goalkeeper Ederson Moraes once and will resume its bid to escape relegation with a home game against Everton on Saturday.
“It was a free hit,” Butland said, “… but they had too much for us today.”
City is off for some warm-weather training in Abu Dhabi amid a three-week break that arose from its unexpected loss to Wigan in the FA Cup last month.
On its return, City has to beat Everton at Goodison Park to set the stage for a title-clinching derby victory.
“I understand that it is important to our fans to win it against United,” Guardiola said, “but the target is the next game at Everton. After that, if we play like today, sooner or later we will be champions.”
Major League Soccer and Liga MX have joined in a long-term partnership that will launch later this year when reigning MLS Cup champion Toronto hosts a team from Mexico’s top league.
The match, dubbed the Campeones Cup, is set for Sept. 19 at BMO Field. The Liga MX opponent will be the winner of the July’s Campeon de Campeones between the Apertura and Clausura champions.
The partnership announced Tuesday will go beyond that single game to include youth competitions, future All-Star games and other events and initiatives.
“We and Liga MX have an opportunity to do something that’s really unprecedented in North America,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “We can work together across borders to create something unique and special that soccer fans both in Mexico and the United States and Canada can benefit from.”
There’s even the possibility of some kind of interleague play in the future, although it’s still being discussed.
Previously, the two leagues came together for the North American SuperLiga, a tournament which started in 2007 and ran through 2010. It was sanctioned by the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation. But it fizzled out as attention went to the CONCAAF Champions League.
In recent years there had been increasing talk of reviving a similar competition. Ever-improving play in MLS has helped spur the speculation.
“We realize that the world is getting global and there are no longer borders in football,” Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla said. “So we started talking about doing something together and being more competitive in football, not just on the pitch.”
The partnership comes as the United States, Canada and Mexico bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Morocco is the only other nation vying for the event. A vote will be held on the competing proposals in June at the FIFA congress in Moscow.
“We’re showing the world that we can do things together, not only a World Cup,” Bonilla said. “If we can work together as leagues, then definitely we can work together to have the best World Cup ever.”
In the United States, MLS competes with Liga MX for television viewers. Garber and Bonilla hope that the collaboration brings new fans to both sides.
“It’s for the good of the game. We have to do the best that we can so that our fans can see the best football in the world. We have to take it one step at a time and this is the first step,” Bonilla said.
The partnership also comes at a time when there is political tension between the United States and Mexico, spurred by new U.S. immigration policies, President Donald Trump’s calls for a border wall and trade negotiations over NAFTA.
“This idea that soccer can be a unifier of different cultures, particularly close neighbors, is such a powerful position for us collectively to be in,” Garber said. “And while we are agnostic to the politics because we’re trying to run our respective leagues, if we can do some things that bring people together, than that’s a powerful position to be in and we’re happy to be in that position.”
WORLD SCORES: COURTESY OF LIVESCORE.COM