City moves closer to coveted top-four finish

Leicester had a late penalty ruled out in bizarre circumstances as Manchester City held on for a 2-1 win on Saturday to move into third place in the English Premier League and close in on Champions League qualification.

Riyad Mahrez was adjudged to have kicked the ball against his standing foot as he slipped while taking the 77th-minute penalty, which went high into the top corner. The referee disallowed the goal and awarded City a free kick, holding up two fingers to show Mahrez had taken two consecutive touches.

“The referee was so brave in making the decision,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “I’ve seen that happen before (but) a long time ago.”

Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel described it as a “freak incident,” and pointed out that Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann did the same from the penalty spot in the Champions League semifinals earlier in the week and the goal was allowed to stand.

Goals by David Silva in the 29th minute and Gabriel Jesus, from the penalty spot, in the 36th gave City a 2-0 lead at Etihad Stadium.

Leicester had been outplayed up to that point, but replied through Japan striker Shinji Okazaki’s acrobatic volley in the 42nd and caused City problems in the closing stages.

The visitors had also challenged the referee’s decision to award City’s opening goal, and they might have had a point.

Raheem Sterling was in an offside position and appeared to be directly in Schmeichel’s line of vision when Silva took a first-time shot from Sane’s cross.

The ball bobbled into the corner from 15 meters out, after Sterling swung a foot at it and missed, with the unsighted Schmeichel not even attempting a save.

“First goal is offside, anyone who has played football knows it,” Schmeichel said. “He is blocking my view, he goes for the ball.”

City climbed two points above Liverpool, which dropped to fourth place ahead of its match away to West Ham on Sunday, in the race for a top-four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League.

Arsenal put more pressure on Liverpool with a 4-1 win over Stoke to pull within one point of the top four with two games left.

Olivier Giroud tapped in two close-range finishes, while Alexis Sanchez netted his 50th Premier League goal for Arsenal in the team’s fifth win in its last six games.

It’s some turnaround from a month ago, when Arsenal lost at Crystal Palace 3-0 and manager Arsene Wenger’s future was looking bleak amid strong criticism from a section of the club’s fans.

On Saturday, as he was making his way along the touchline toward the dressing room after the final whistle, Wenger gave a wave to Arsenal’s visiting supporters and they roared their approval.

“At the moment, we have consistency,” Wenger said. “Let’s finish well.”

City has 72 points, Liverpool 70, and Arsenal 69. Manchester United is on 65 points in sixth place, with a game in hand.

Swansea boosted its bid for top-flight survival with a 2-0 win over Sunderland, courtesy of first-half goals by Fernando Llorente and Kyle Naughton.

Swansea’s players paid for the tickets of the 3,000 away fans, and the traveling contingent saw their team notch a third win in four games.

Bournemouth edged Burnley 2-1, while Southampton strengthened its chances of a top-half finish with a 2-1 win over Middlesborough that was secured by goals from Jay Rodriguez and Nathan Redmond either side of halftime.

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