Raheem Sterling marked his 21st birthday with a decisive brace as Manchester City secured top spot in Champions League Group D by overpowering in-form Borussia Moenchengladbach 4-2 on Tuesday.
With 10 minutes left City trailed, goals from Julian Korb and Raffael having cancelled out David Silva’s 16th-minute opener, but a stunning late surge by the hosts saw Sterling strike twice in two minutes to put City in charge before substitute Wilfried Bony added a fourth.
It lifted Manuel Pellegrini’s side above Juventus, beaten 1-0 by Sevilla in Spain in the other group game, and meant that Gladbach missed out on even the consolation of a Europa League berth.
City’s failure to secure top spot in the group cost them dearly in the past two seasons, when they lost twice to Barcelona in the last 16, but they will now approach Monday’s draw safe in the knowledge that neither Barcelona, Real Madrid nor Bayern Munich will await in the next round.
Gladbach had beaten Bayern 3-1 on Saturday, becoming the first team to do so in the Bundesliga this season, but three days on they find themselves out of all European competition after the first defeat of coach Andre Schubert’s 13-game reign.
With Sergio Aguero still nursing a heel problem and Bony starting on the bench, Sterling led the line for City at the Etihad Stadium, and after an early scare when Korb shot over, he created the game’s opening goal. Receiving the ball on the left-hand corner of the area, Sterling released Silva with a cunning back-heel and the Spaniard lashed the ball high past Yann Sommer at the near post for his first goal since August 10.
But it took the visitors just three minutes to draw level as Fabian Johnson swapped passes with Lars Stindl before driving into the box and squaring for Korb, who bludgeoned home right-footed.
Fabian Delph gave City a chance to restore their lead with an inviting cross from the right, but it evaded Sterling at the far post and a minute later Gladbach were in front, albeit in slightly fortuitous circumstances.
Oscar Wendt’s pull-back from the left was mishit by Johnson, but Raffael, ambling across the ball’s trajectory, managed to nudge it past Joe Hart with his knee.
City made a slow start to the second half, but before long the visitors’ goal was under siege.
Nico Elvedi’s attempt to chest Fernandinho’s cross back to Sommer almost let Sterling in, obliging the Swiss goalkeeper to block with his legs.
Sommer also fielded shots from Silva and Sterling, before a crisp volley from the latter obliged him to spring to his left and produce a fine one-handed save.
Pellegrini introduced Bony and Jesus Navas for Delph and Kevin De Bruyne and after Nicolas Otamendi had headed over, Sterling equalised, finishing coolly with his left foot after Gael Clichy had wriggled to the byline and crossed.
In a flash City were in front, Silva improbably flicking on a high ball for Bony, who nutmegged Elvedi and teed up Sterling to sweep an assured finish inside the right-hand post from the edge of the box.
Four minutes later it was all over, Bony finishing at the second attempt after his initial shot was blocked by Havard Nordveit, and Hart’s save from Thorgan Hazard’s deflected shot spared the home fans an anxious final few minutes.
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