Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Raheem Sterling hit a brilliant 11-minute hat-trick as Manchester City inflicted a 5-1 thrashing on Atalanta in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side were rocked by Ruslan Malinovsky’s first half penalty at the Etihad Stadium.
But City responded superbly as Sergio Aguero struck twice before the interval.
Sterling had provided the assists for both of Aguero’s goals, but the England winger was just getting warmed up.
After the interval, Sterling struck three times to complete a personal masterclass that underlined his rise in the Guardiola era from enigmatic playmaker to lethal finisher.
Sterling has emerged as City’s driving force over the last 18 months and his second hat-trick of the season confirmed his place among the world’s best players.
The only frustration for Guardiola was a late red card for young midfielder Phil Foden.
City’s third successive Group C victory leaves them top of the table, five points clear of second placed Dinamo Zagreb with three games left.
Atalanta, making their Champions League debut this season, are still searching for their first point after a third consecutive defeat.
Guardiola had called on City to show they have the mentality to conquer the “little margins” needed to win the Champions League for the first time.
This was the perfect response as they erased a slow start.
Kyle Walker, back in the City defence after illness, let Robin Gosens scamper down the wing to whip in a cross that Timothy Castagne headed over from close-range.
After going 22 minutes without a single shot, Guardiola’s men finally threatened when Aguero’s drive forced a save from Pierluigi Gollini.
But it was Atalanta who struck first in the 28th minute.
For the second successive game, Guardiola had responded to City’s defensive injury problems by deploying midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri as his two centre-backs.
– Sterling sparkles –
It was an uncomfortable arrangement and when Josip Ilicic advanced into the City area, Fernandinho rashly stuck out a leg to trip the Atalanta winger and concede a penalty.
Malinovsky sent Ederson the wrong way with the spot-kick as City conceded their first goal in this season’s tournament.
That blow woke City from their slumber and Aguero made up for his earlier miss with the 34th minute equaliser.
Sterling deserved much of the credit for a penetrating run and delicate cross that allowed Aguero to peel off his marker for a clinical close-range finish.