Manchester City's English midfielder Raheem Sterling (L) runs to celebrate after scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on October 26, 2019.
UNITED KINGDOM - 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.
- Route one City -
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.
A huge punt forward by Ederson was flicked on by Jesus into the path of the unmarked Sterling, who took one touch before shooting under Tom Heaton for his 13th goal in 14 appearances in all competitions this term.
City should have doubled their lead when Engels gave the ball away to Sterling and he picked out Jesus, but the Brazilian's shot was brilliantly cleared off the line by Tyrone Mings.
It made no difference as Guardiola's side were in the groove and they killed off Villa with two goals in five minutes.
In the 65th minute, Kevin De Bruyne swung in a cross that Silva flicked into the net despite a long VAR review followed to check for offside against Sterling.
Gundogan put the result beyond doubt in the 70th minute with a clinical finish after Villa failed to clear.