Raheem Sterling scored twice against Crystal Palace to inspire Manchester City to a ninth straight Premier League win and send Pep Guardiola’s side to the top of the table – if only for a few hours.
With title rivals Liverpool hosting Chelsea in the late kick-off (16:30 BST), City moved one point clear at the summit after a dominant performance at Selhurst Park.
Sterling opened the scoring after Kevin de Bruyne’s beautifully weighted pass saw his team-mate outsprint Patrick van Aanholt before an exquisite finish beyond Vicente Guaita.
England winger Sterling’s instinctive finish after Leroy Sane’s pass doubled the lead before Palace, who are 11 points above the relegation zone, reduced the deficit through Luka Milivojevic’s late free-kick.
Substitute Gabriel Jesus extended City’s lead with a smart finish to leave his team one point clear of Liverpool with five games remaining in a fascinating title race.
However, Liverpool will return to the summit if they beat Chelsea later in the day.
Relentless City showing no signs of fatigue
City were forced to endure one or two nervy moments after Milivojevic’s 12th top-flight goal this season gave the home side hope but, in truth, the visitors were superior from start to finish.
Having looked ordinary edging past Brighton in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend before losing in the Champions League at Tottenham on Tuesday, Guardiola’s side returned to their majestic best in south London.
De Bruyne, left out against Spurs in midweek, sparkled on his return to the starting line-up but it was Sterling who caused the real damage, scoring more than once away from home for the first time in his City career.
He could even have scored his third hat-trick in five weeks for club and country but, after firing wide from eight yards in the 10th minute, quickly atoned.
He showed electrifying pace to open the scoring after De Bruyne’s perfect pass and Palace were fortunate to only be 1-0 behind at the interval as they found themselves under relentless pressure.
Guaita produced a palm-stinging save to keep out Sane while Palace’s Spanish keeper had to make a smart stop to prevent Martin Kelly scoring an own goal before Sterling made it 2-0, finishing off a lovely move that involved David Silva and Sane.
The only minor disappointment for City, who had Benjamin Mendy making his first league start since November, was that they were unable to make it five league wins without conceding in a row.
With Jesus’ late strike giving the score a more reflective look, City will head into Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg in confident mood as they look to overturn a one-goal deficit.
No home comforts for Palace
Palace stunned City with a 3-2 win at Etihad Stadium in December but they rarely looked like repeating such heroics in front of their own fans.
They offered very little as an attacking threat while their midfield, disrupted by the early loss to injury of Jeffrey Schlupp, found itself overpowered as Silva was repeatedly allowed space to create chances.
In addition, Christian Benteke made little impact and was unable to do his former club Liverpool a favour on his first league start for two months.
Although his side are not mathematically safe, Palace boss Roy Hodgson can start planning for a seventh successive season in the Premier League.
His side have beaten City, knocked Tottenham out of the FA Cup and held both Arsenal and Manchester United this season.
However, their home form has been a concern.
This was their ninth home league defeat – only relegated Huddersfield have a worse record in front of their own fans – and Palace will be keen to put that straight next season.
Man of the match – Raheem Sterling (Man City)
‘Perfect response’ – what the managers said
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola: “Today’s game was really good after the Champions League defeat – the stage was not easy.
“We play December, January, February – every three days one game. Why not trust the guys to do it again. We have the personality for the games.
“I knew we would produce a good performance.”
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson: “We got better as the game went on and in the second half we gave it a good shot.
“When you go on the counter-attack looking for an equaliser you concede a goal. We weren’t good enough to dent City’s progress.
“Keeping a ball and stopping them from playing around you… we did the best job we could. Had we gone hell for leather then they would have gone behind and around us.”
Capital investment for City – the stats
- Manchester City have won five away Premier League games against London sides this season, their highest ever number of victories in the capital within a single top-flight campaign.
- Crystal Palace have lost 17 times in the Premier League this season, the joint-most defeats within a single campaign in the competition for a Roy Hodgson side alongside the 2011-12 season when he was in charge of West Brom.
- Palace captain Luka Milivojevic is the first player this season to score both home and away in the Premier League against City.
- Raheem Sterling’s brace for City was his first ever double away from home for the club.
- Kevin de Bruyne’s assist for City’s opening goal was his first in the Premier League in 336 days.
- Gabriel Jesus has scored 19 goals for Manchester City in all competitions this season, averaging a goal every 112 minutes.
Palace have a week to dust themselves down and prepare for next Sunday’s London derby at Arsenal (16:00 BST kick-off) while City will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Tottenham on Wednesday in the Champions League quarter-final return leg at Etihad Stadium (20:00).