Six-hit City in champion form

Premier League
Manchester City 6 Southampton 1

ON this showing, anyone who doesn’t believe City will be champions again when the season ends next May is a fool . . . unless they’re Liverpool supporters, of course.

For Pep Guardiola’s men were amazingly, tantalisingly brilliant.

And, to make future opponents quiver, the man himself said in the programme notes: “We can improve . . . and get even better.”

Revelling in this slaughter of the Saints, which restored City to the top of the table, was the dazzling Raheem Sterling, who scored two and set up three more as the South Coast side were ripped apart.

He was easily the Man of the Match . . . and England boss Gareth Southgate was there to see it.

City laid down a marker right from the kick-off as they overpowered sorry Southampton. And they needed only five minutes to open the scoring when the Saints failed to clear their lines.

The unfortunate Wesley Hoedt tried to cut out Leroy Sane’s cross in the direction of Sterling and the ball flew into his own net.

It was the fifth time this season that City have scored in the opening eight minutes – and it meant that all Southampton manager Mark Hughes’ well thought-out plans to contain City in the early stages were tossed out of the window.

With only 12 minutes on the clock, Hughes was to taste further despair when, after a spot of sheer wizardry, Sterling sent the ball into a goalmouth melee and there was the maestro Sergio Aguero to prod it home.

Was this going to be the day when all the half-chances and near-misses were to find the net? It certainly looked like it after only 18 minutes when David Silva made it 3-0.

He took a pass from Sane after a neat touch by Sterling and rocketed the ball past hapless keeper Alex McCarthy.

The scoreline sent Guardiola into raptures as he clapped ecstatically on the touchline while the devastated Hughes turned around muttering words that are probably best left unreported.

City were playing like the champions they are and the England boss in the stands couldn’t have been other than thrilled, although his deadpan expression gave nothing away.

But after 28 minutes, the home team were brought down to earth when the visitors were awarded a penalty. The sliding City keeper Ederson needlessly floored Saints’ Danny Ings . . . and the same player despatched the resultant spot-kick, sending Ederson the wrong way.

Phew, what a first-half this was proving to be, especially with the dancing, twinkle-toed Sterling tormenting the Southampton defence down both wings.

And when City’s three-goal lead was restored after 46 minutes, it was fitting that it was Sterling who made it 4-1 at the break. He may have needed two bites of the cherry, but he got the job done for his fifth Premier League goal of the season.

The second-half began in much the same fashion. A fierce curling rocket from Sane hit the post and then Bernardo Silva went so close.

Surely it couldn’t be long before the Blues scored again . . . and it wasn’t. The magical Sterling struck after 67 minutes after being put through by Aguero.

But the opportunity to make it a cricket score was missed after chance after chance went begging.

Meanwhile, at the other end Shane Long had a wonderful chance to make the scoreline more respectable, but he blasted wide from little more than five yards. True, a Southampton goal would have been almost meaningless at this stage, but poor Long could have ended his 17-game draught.

As the closing minutes ticked away, the home fans screamed for another goal . . . and sure enough it came in stoppage time, courtesy of Sane after good work by substitute Foden and Sterling.

So City finished with a 6-1 triumph, putting them in super-confident mood for their next Premier League visitors – none other than Manchester United.

As his team moved two points clear at the top of the table, Guardiola said after the match that it was too early to claim that Sterling is one of the best players in the world as he still needed to increase his consistency.

But the City coach added: "He is a top player, sharp, fast, clever, fighting, ambitious and he's decisive. It was an incredible performance.”

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