BRIGHTON, England (AP) — In-form Raheem Sterling scored a hat trick as Manchester City began a potentially turbulent few days by blowing away Brighton 5-0 to secure second place in the English Premier League on Saturday.
Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva also were on target to help City emphatically end a run of three straight away losses.
Pep Guardiola’s side is assured of finishing runner-up to already-crowned champion Liverpool, but whether it qualifies for next season’s Champions League remains another matter.
The club will discover on Monday the outcome of its appeal against a two-year ban from European competitions following alleged breaches of club licensing and financial fair play regulations.
While that ongoing issue remains a major concern, there was plenty for City to smile about on the field as Sterling took his goal tally in all competitions to 27, making it the most prolific campaign of his career to date.
City was at its mesmerising best and, on another day, would have won by an even greater margin as Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne each hit the goal frame.
City has 23 goals in seven matches since the restart of the league last month.
Brighton was outclassed and repeatedly afforded its dominant opponents lots of space, without offering any resistance. The Seagulls remained eight points clear of the relegation zone following a second home defeat in just four days, after 3-1 to Liverpool.
De Bruyne captained City as Guardiola rotated his squad by making six alterations to the team which thrashed Newcastle 5-0 in midweek.
Sterling made the breakthrough, expertly bending a finish into the bottom right corner from 20 yards (meters) after he was allowed too much space when Jesus nodded Riyad Mahrez’s searching pass into his path.
City doubled its advantage two minutes before the break when De Bruyne’s outswinging corner from the right was helped on by Rodri, allowing Jesus a simple tap-in at the back post.
De Bruyne curled a free kick against the post just after the restart, with Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan grateful to clutch Sterling’s follow-up effort.
Sterling quickly atoned for squandering that chance by heading in Mahrez’s delightful cross from the right to put the result beyond doubt with 37 minutes still to go.
City’s play was verging on exhibition stuff at times and, just three minutes later, Silva added another by finishing off a rebound after Ryan failed to hold his initial effort.
The healthy lead allowed Guardiola to make a string of second-half changes, which perhaps halted the team’s momentum and spared Brighton too much embarrassment.
Sterling still had time to secure his treble — and it arrived nine minutes from the end, in bizarre fashion.
After falling to the ground inside the box, the England international somehow managed to head the ball goalward and make it seven goals in as many games since the restart to claim the match ball as Dan Burn failed to clear on the line.
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