Sterling sparkles as Man City see off Villa
Manchester: Pep Guardiola was relieved Manchester City found their rhythm in time to close the gap on Premier League leaders Liverpool to three points as Raheem Sterling inspired a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday.
Guardiola's side survived a tame opening period as second half goals from Sterling, David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan put Villa to the sword.
City's second successive league victory lifted them above Leicester into second place and put pressure on Liverpool to beat Tottenham in Sunday's clash at Anfield.
Fernandinho was dismissed after earning a second booking when the City star tugged at Keinan Davis in the 87th minute.
Guardiola conceded the champions had been below their best at the start, but he was delighted with the way they took control after the interval.
"Aston Villa played very well in the first half and we played not so good. They are newly-promoted and played with real spirit, attacking the channels well," Guardiola said.
"But the second half, I don't know if we played good because we scored early or it was because we played differently, but we won. It was a special second half, we were another level."
City were upset by Wolves in their last league fixture at the Etihad Stadium, but Guardiola had never lost back-to-back home league games as a manager and Sterling was key to ensuring that impressive record wasn't ruined.
Sterling's latest virtuoso display came just days after his second hat-trick of the campaign in City's Champions League demolition of Atalanta.
The England winger has made a convincing case to be regarded as genuine superstar over the last 18
months and Villa had no answer to his intelligent movement, sublime skills and predatory finishing.
City have scored 32 league goals this season, 11 more than Liverpool, and their firepower was clear to see as they saw off Villa with their record scorer Sergio Aguero on the bench.
Gabriel Jesus made consecutive Premier League starts for the first time since December, but he squandered a chance to put City ahead when he dragged his close-range shot wide from Sterling's pass.
No fewer than 11 City stars have suffered injuries this season, with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Rodri the latest to be sidelined for several weeks.
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Guardiola admitted he was "a little bit concerned" about how City would cope, yet with Sterling in his side, anything is possible.
Sterling appealed for a penalty when his shot cannoned off Bjorn Engels' arm, then glanced a header just wide.
John Stones gifted possession to Villa and Douglas Luiz almost took advantage when he tangled with City keeper Ederson, who narrowly avoided conceding a penalty in the melee.
Despite their lack of rhythm in the first half, City should have been ahead at the break when Sterling teed up Silva, only for the Spanish midfielder to shoot inches wide of the far post.
Usually firmly dedicated to Guardiola's passing principles, City finally broke Villa's stubborn resistence with a goal straight from the route one handbook.