Football

Belgian beasts lead title charge for Manchester clubs

Mourinho hails 'fighter' Fellaini, Guardiola praises 'talented' de Bruyne

The English Premiership title race is fast turning into a two-horse race.

Both Manchester teams are joint top with a five-point gap over third-placed Tottenham, with Manchester City ahead of Manchester United on goal difference.

Man United continued their winning ways with a 4-0 demolition of bottom club Crystal Palace, before Man City edged out defending champions Chelsea 1-0 in the later game.

And two players - Marouane Fellaini and Kevin de Bruyne - were singled out for praise by their managers after the games.

Jose Mourinho described Fellaini as a "strong character" for overcoming his early troubles at Man United to establish himself as a key player at Old Trafford.

Fellaini struggled to make a positive impression early in his United career after arriving from Everton for £27.5 million (S$50m) in 2013, with one British newspaper placing him among the 10 worst buys of the Premier League season at the end of his first year.

Yet United manager Mourinho has made clear he sees Fellaini's contribution as vital to the club's progress, saying last month he felt his team were "weaker" without the midfielder in it.

The Belgium international missed last Wednesday's 4-1 Champions League win away to CSKA Moscow with an ankle problem, but returned to score twice as United beat Palace 4-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday.

"I think only a strong character could resist the difficulties here," said Mourinho of Fellaini.

"He had some difficult times when people didn't recognise his qualities, when other managers didn't like so much the qualities he has.

"He is a fighter, a guy with lots of pride and I am really pleased I helped him reach this level and change the perception the fans have now."

Mourinho suggested that the 29-year-old was benefiting from his management more than he had done under his predecessors at Old Trafford.

"All managers are different. Sometimes, we like players that others don't like," said Mourinho.

"Some players perform better with some of us than with others - and I have examples of players who didn't perform well for me and then performed well for other managers.

"I think Marouane has important qualities and I try to use them depending on the situation and what the team needs.

"He plays with me as a defensive midfielder, as a second striker, as one of two midfielders. He is a great player. A great character."

At Stamford Bridge yesterday morning (Singapore time), Man City proved that they can now impose their style upon any of their title rivals with the 1-0 win over Chelsea.

De Bruyne sealed the victory with a 20-metre left-footed strike in the 67th minute.

That followed his sparkling goal in City's 2-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League last Tuesday, prompting City manager Pep Guardiola to hail his match-winner.

"Once again, he showed us how good he is - he won the game," Guardiola said.

"He can do absolutely everything. Without the ball, he's the most humble, the most shy guy.

"It's not easy to find that with this kind of talented player."

De Bruyne left Chelsea for Wolfsburg in January 2014 and the Belgian moved to Man City for £58m 18 months later.

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte said he did not know about the circumstances of the 26-year-old's departure, but he paid him a glowing tribute after seeing de Bruyne punish his side.

"I don't know what happened in the past," said the Italian.

"But we are talking about a really good player, a top player, because he is a good technical (player), fast, good personality, runs a lot. I think he's a complete player." - WIRE SERVICES

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