Pep Guardiola hailed Raheem Sterling after the England forward struck a quickfire hat-trick in Manchester City’s 5-1 Champions League demolition of Atalanta.
Sterling struck three times in 11 minutes after Sergio Aguero had earlier netted twice to cancel out Ruslan Malinovskyi’s penalty opener at the Etihad Stadium.
The result took City five points clear at the top of Group C and within touching distance of the last 16 with three games still to play.
Perfect night home with my very first Champions League hat trick 🤟🏾 happy to see the hard work is paying off, plenty more to come hopefully 🔥🔥 #aimhigherpic.twitter.com/REdIl83Mzh— Raheem Sterling (@sterling7) October 22, 2019
There were downsides for City with Phil Foden sent off and Rodri injured, but Sterling’s scintillating display, which included providing the assist for Aguero’s first and winning the penalty for his second, stole the headlines.
City boss Guardiola said: “All the credit is for him. He’s a guy whose physicality is incredible. He is so strong.
“A day after a game, he could play another. His regeneration is incredible and he can play both sides. He is an extraordinary player.”
Guardiola was asked at his post-match press conference if 24-year-old Sterling, who has improved season-on-season under the former Barcelona coach, could still get even better.
He said: “It depends on him, his desire, and I think he has that – the desire to be better.”
Guardiola feels City now have one foot in the knockout stages.
He said: “It was a really tough game against a really tough opponent. It was an incredible effort because they have a lot of quality.
“That is why I am so satisfied with the result. Three more points in the next game and we will be in the next stage.”
Guardiola also had praise for Foden, who aside from his dismissal for two yellow cards late in the game, turned in a fine performance.
He said: “For Phil what is important is not the red card but how he played. He played a high level, he is an incredible player.”
Foden’s bookings, particularly his first, seemed harsh but Guardiola did not complain.
He said: “He will learn. He will know after one yellow card the need to be more careful.”
Guardiola was asked if the 19-year-old might be fined for his indiscipline.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We should pay him for the way he played.”
Rodri was helped from the field with a hamstring injury late in the first half.
Guardiola is optimistic the problem is not serious.
He said: “I think it will be 10 days but if it’s broken (torn), it will be three weeks.”
Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini was frustrated the visitors failed to build on their good start.
He said: “It’s a heavy defeat and the big disappointment is that we managed to score first.
“City are a great side but we should have done better and we could have scored more goals.
“My players did some good things, which we can build on, but of course, City are devastating with some space.”
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