Brighton's Danny Welbeck, top, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Brighton at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London, England, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Manchester City strengthens grip on EPL title by taking 8-point lead

Manchester City strengthens grip on EPL title by taking 8-point lead

Manchester City’s grip on its Premier League title hasn’t been this strong all season.

A 1-0 win at Brentford on Wednesday, coupled with Chelsea conceding a stoppage-time goal to draw 1-1 against Brighton, left the defending champions with an eight-point lead heading into the new year.

It has been an almost perfect 24 hours for City, which saw Liverpool — another rival for the title — surprisingly lose 1-0 at injury-hit Leicester on Tuesday. Chelsea has moved a point ahead of third-place Liverpool before their meeting at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, when at least one of the teams will drop points.

Liverpool has a game in hand, but will soon lose star forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to the African Cup of Nations.

City wasn’t at its fluent best against Brentford — Pep Guardiola’s team came into the match having scored 17 goals in its last three matches — but still did enough to earn a 10th straight win in the league.

“I am not going to believe you when you say it is already done,” Guardiola said. “There are 54 points still to play for.”

Yet City is even winning when not playing its best.

Phil Foden grabbed the only goal in the 16th minute, diverting a cross from Kevin De Bruyne into the net from close range. Video review showed Foden was just onside when he applied the finish.

It was the perfect way for Foden to mark his return to the starting lineup, alongside Jack Grealish, after both forwards were dropped to the bench for City’s last two games for disciplinary reasons.

“Around Christmas you have to keep your foot on the gas and keep focused,” Foden said. “This team is doing that.”

City concluded a calendar year when the team has set English top-flight records for the most victories (36) and the most away wins (19), while its tally of 113 goals is also a Premier League record.

CHELSEA DENIED

It’s three draws in four league matches for Chelsea, whose strong early-season form has disappeared.

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