Raheem Sterling demonstrated why manager Pep Guardiola believes he is playing the best football of his Manchester City career as the defending champions went top of the Premier League, temporarily at least, following a 2-0 win over Brighton on Saturday.
Sergio Aguero was also on target with the 15th goal in his last 11 league appearances at City’s home Etihad Stadium.
The comfortable win means City have now dropped just four of the last 39 points available to them, setting up a fascinating visit to Anfield next Sunday to face a Liverpool team currently regarded as the greatest threat to City’s successful title defence.
Despite wasting the opportunity to win by a more comfortable margin, City have now scored 21 times in seven league games — a rate that leaves them on target to beat least season’s record haul of 106 goals.
City did not create their first on-target shot until the 26th minute, yet scored the opener three minutes later.
Brighton had played almost faultlessly until that point but, against City’s array of attacking talent, near-perfection is not enough.
A Brighton move broke down when Leroy Sane intercepted 10 yards inside the visitors’ half, sparking a cavalry charge upfield with Bernardo Silva and Aguero working a move back to the German winger on the left.
Sane’s cross was as accurate as it was selfless, the ball moved across the face of an open goal for Sterling to slide in and convert his fourth goal of the season from point-blank range.
Sterling, who endured a mixed World Cup playing for England, had earned praise from his club manager on Friday, Guardiola claiming the forward is in better form than he was in scoring 18 times in City’s title-winning campaign last season.
Guardiola described the 23-year-old as “more mature” and, following a slow start to the current season, the same can be said of Sane.
Omitted from Germany’s World Cup squad and criticised in his homeland for his form and attitude recently, Sane started this season out of City’s regular starting line-up.
But recalled to start the previous two league games, against Fulham and Cardiff, Sane had been impressive in an attack that scored eight times in those two outings.
He played a series of effective one-twos, with David Silva in particular, as City put the Brighton defence under pressure.
He also produced that first on-target effort, after 26 minutes, with a shot straight at keeper Mat Ryan although, after City took the lead, there were more openings.
A rare mistake by Lewis Dunk, who won a tackle but left the ball, allowed Sterling a shot which Ryan parried well before the ‘keeper ended the half by punching away Fernandinho’s powerful 30-yard shot.
After the restart, Sane headed down, but over, from Bernardo’s inviting cross and Ryan saved spectacularly, again, from David Silva after attempts from Sterling and Aguero had been blocked in quick succession.
City finally received the reward of a second goal in the 65th minute when Aguero started a move that summed up his team’s superiority.
Having played a one-two with David Silva, the Argentinian forward dribbled 30 yards, beating four defenders in the process, before playing the ball wide to Sterling and continuing his run.
Sterling’s superbly-timed return pass left Aguero with the relatively simple task of continuing his remarkable run of goals at the Etihad from 10 yards out.