Sterling's 11-minute hat-trick inspires City to Atalanta rout
Champions League Group C - Etihad Stadium - Manchester City 5 (Aguero 34', 38', Sterling (58', 64', 69') Atalanta 1 (Malinovskiy 28')
Raheem Sterling continued his rich vein of form with an 11th-minute hat-trick as Manchester City kept their 100 per cent winning record in Group C with a 5-1 thrashing over Serie A high-flyers Atalanta on a night where Phil Foden was handed a start but was later sent off.
Pep Guardiola once again opted to start without any recognised centre-backs, with midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri lining up centrally with Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy either side, leaving fit-again Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones on the bench.
City's makeshift defence didn't look comfortable in the first-half, however, with Fernandino clumsily conceding a penalty which was converted by Ruslan Malinovskiy as Atalanta took a shock lead in the 28th-minute.
The hosts were behind for only six minutes however, as Sterling stood up a pin-point cross for Aguero to level the game on his 100th European appearance. It was a sign of things to come as Sterling was brought down carelessly by Andrea Masiello and Aguero slotted home from the spot to turn the game on its head.
An unconvincing showing in defence may have prompted Guardiola into a change later in the game, but he was forced into a re-think just before the interval when Rodri hobbled off with a hamstring injury, and Stones his replacement.
City were to have no major defensive calamities after the start, however, as their attack - and mainly Sterling - clicked into gear. The in-form England international put the game out of sight in the 58th-minute, as Phil Foden - making just his second start of the season - grabbed an assist, before the 19-year-old was harshly shown his marching orders for two bookable offences.
The 24-year-old added two more for good measure as City moved to nine points and five ahead of second and third-placed in the group, taking a huge step closer to progression to the last 16 in the process.
TALKING POINT - Sterling hits back, but City's defensive problems mount
Despite registering 21 goals in their last five games, Guardiola claimed his side was "not ready" to win the Champions League, owing to a lack of proficiency in attack, in his pre-match interview. His criticism was seemingly aimed at Gabriel Jesus, who missed a couple of decent chances at Crystal Palace on Saturday and was subsequently benched, but it fired up Sterling. Everything he touched turned to goals on a night City scored five times from just 10 on target.
If the European title is to evade Guardiola once again this season, however, perhaps it will be in defence where City are found wanting. The Citizens are seriously missing long-term absentee Aymeric Laporte and Guardiola is struggling to find a suitable partnership at centre-back. Now that Rodri is injured, and Fernandinho endured a poor game, who will start at the heart of the defence for the home league match with Aston Villa on Saturday?
MAN OF THE MATCH - Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Named on the shortlist of the Ballon d'Or earlier this week, the England international is quickly becoming the complete player. And he underlined his credentials for the prestigious award with another world-class performance, taking his tally to 12 club goals already this season.
28' - GOAL! Man City 0-1 Atalanta: Malinovskyi coolly steps up and slots the penalty confidently into the bottom corner, sending Ederson the wrong way.
34' - GOAL! Man City 1-1 Atalanta: Aguero nets the equaliser on his 100th European appearance, pulling off the shoulder of the defender to tuck in from Sterling's pin-point cross. As easy as you like.
38' - GOAL! Man City 2-1 Atalanta: Aguero is into double figures for the season but more importantly City are ahead! The Argentine buries his spot-kick beyond the reach of Gollini as the ball nestles into the corner.
58' - GOAL! Man City 3-1 Atalanta: That should do it! De Bruyne is ushered through on the right from Walker's pass, he cuts inside, centres it to Foden, who lays it off to Sterling and he blasts it into the net from close range.
64' - GOAL! Man City 4-1 Atalanta: Sterling at the double! The Englishman grabs his brace with a lovely finish. After receiving a through-ball from Gundogan, he checks inside and slots it past the helpless Gollini.
69' - GOAL! Man City 5-1 Atalanta: Sterling nets his hat-trick! Aguero is denied by point-blank range by Gollini, but the ball is recycled and Mahrez curls a delicious cross into the box which the fully-stretched Sterling converts.
- Raheem Sterling is the eighth English player to score a Champions League hat-trick, after Michael Owen, Andrew Cole, Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Mike Newell, Alan Shearer and Danny Welbeck. Only Brazil (12) and France (9) have had more different hat-trick scorers in the competition.
- Since his Champions League debut for Man City in September 2015, Sterling has had a hand in 28 goals in the competition (18 goals, 10 assists) - more than any other English player in that time.