MANCHESTER, England (AP) – Pablo Zabaleta got a rousing send-off. Yaya Toure scored perhaps a farewell goal. Their team earned a convincing win to virtually guarantee Champions League qualification.
It was pretty much a perfect night for Manchester City.
They beat West Bromwich Albion 3-1 on an emotional night at Etihad Stadium to move up to third place in the English Premier League and ensure only a series of freak results will deny Pep Guardiola's side a top-four finish.
Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne scored first-half goals in the space of less than two minutes before Toure, who is waiting to discover if he'll be offered a new contract after seven years at the club, strolled through to stroke in a third goal that brought the home fans to their feet.
They were up again minutes later as Zabaleta, the popular Argentina right back who will leave City in the offseason after nine years, came on the 61st minute to a rip-roaring reception for his last home game.
West Brom got a goal back in the 86th through Hal Robson-Kanu, the only negative for City.
City, which is away to Watford on the final day of the season on Sunday, is a point ahead of fourth-placed Liverpool and three points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal. City has a superior goal difference of 6 over Arsenal.
The evening began with City fans waving Argentina flags and singing songs about Zabaleta, a firm favorite at the Etihad since joining City the day before Sheikh Mansour's takeover of the club in 2008.
It ended with the man himself wearing the captain's armband, getting the man-of-the-match award, and getting embraced by teammates and opponents alike.
Guardiola chose to promote Sergio Aguero from the bench and partner him with Gabriel Jesus in an exciting-looking front two.
Unsurprisingly, both were involved in the goals.
Jesus was on hand to tap home from inside the six-yard box in the 27th after De Bruyne burst into the left side of the area and sent in a low cross.
Jesus returned the favor inside two minutes, his layoff at the edge of the area met with a cushioned side-foot volley that curled inside the far post.
West Brom was being so outclassed that it was a matter of how many City would score. At one point in the first half, lone striker Salomon Rondon, inside his own half and with nothing on, even attempted a shot that was blocked on the halfway line.
When the players resumed for the second half, the countdown was on for the introduction of Zabaleta. It happened just after the hour mark, by which time Toure had exchanged passes with Aguero and slotted a finish between goalkeeper Ben Foster's legs.
Zabaleta high-fived Vincent Kompany–his long-time defensive ally–as he made his way to right back and each of his touches, tackles, and fouls was applauded.