In-form Raheem Sterling hit a hat-trick as Manchester City began a potentially turbulent few days by blowing away Brighton to secure second place in the Premier League.
Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva were also on target to help City emphatically end a run of three successive top-flight defeats on the road with a thumping 5-0 victory.
Pep Guardiola’s side are now assured of finishing runners-up to runaway leaders Liverpool but whether they will qualify for next season’s Champions League remains another matter.
The club will on Monday discover the outcome of their appeal against a two-year ban from European club competitions following alleged breaches of club licensing and financial fair play regulations.
🔥🔥 FIRE BOY 🔥🔥— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 11, 2020
While that ongoing issue remains a major concern, there was plenty for City smile about on Saturday evening as the potent Sterling took his goal tally in all competitions to 27, the most prolific campaign of his career to date.
City repeatedly showed glimpses of their mesmerising best and on another day would have won by an even greater margin as Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne each rattled the woodwork.
Outclassed Albion repeatedly afforded their dominant visitors oceans of space and offered little resistance. The Seagulls remain eight points clear of the relegation zone following a second home defeat in just four days.
Ahead of kick-off in Sussex, there was a poignant minute’s silence following the death of England World Cup winner Jack Charlton at the age of 85.
City became champions for a second successive season on their last visit to the Amex Stadium but almost 14 months on things have turned slightly sour.
Guardiola’s men have watched rivals Liverpool romp to the title, while they travelled south anxiously awaiting their European fate and having been beaten at Manchester United, Chelsea and Southampton on their previous three top-flight away trips.
De Bruyne captained the visitors as boss Guardiola rotated his squad by making six alterations to the team which thrashed Newcastle 5-0 in midweek.
Brighton, who showed five changes, had paid a heavy price for attempting to play out from the back as the conceded two goals from individual errors in the early stages of Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Liverpool.
The hosts, who survived when unmarked City defender Eric Garcia somehow turned wide from a Riyad Mahrez corner, held out until the 21st minute on this occasion.
Sterling made the breakthrough, expertly bending into the bottom right corner from 20 yards after he was allowed too much space by Martin Montoya when Gabriel Jesus nodded Mahrez’s searching pass into his path.
Brighton failed to muster an attempt on target in whole game and City doubled their advantage two minutes before the break.
De Bruyne’s outswinging corner from the right was helped on by Rodri, allowing Jesus a simple tap-in at the back post after he escaped compatriot Bernardo.
Belgian De Bruyne then smacked the left post from a free-kick just after the restart, with Seagulls goalkeeper Mathew Ryan grateful to clutch Sterling’s follow-up effort.
Sterling quickly atoned for squandering that chance by heading in Mahrez’s delightful cross from the left to put the result beyond doubt with still 37 minutes to go.
Nailed-on ⚽️⚽️⚽️— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 11, 2020
City’s play was verging on exhibition stuff at times and it appeared proceedings could become humiliating for the hosts when just three minutes later Portuguese Silva added another by finishing on the rebound after Ryan failed to hold his initial effort.
The healthy lead allowed Guardiola to make a string of second-half changes, which perhaps halted their momentum and spared Brighton too much embarrassment.
Sterling still had time to secure his treble and it arrived nine minutes from the end and in bizarre fashion.
After falling to the ground inside the box, the England international somehow managed to head goalwards while on the ground and make it seven goals in as many games since the restart to claim the match ball as Dan Burn failed to clear on the line.
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