Raheem Sterling added his name to an elite list of just eight English players to score a hat trick in the Champions League as Manchester City cruised to a convincing 5-1 victory over Italian visitors Atalanta, continuing both City’s unbeaten run on the continent and Atalanta’s streak of defeats on their inaugural Champions League campaign.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s travelling legion struck first as Ruslan Malinovskiy converted a penalty in front of his own fans in the 28th minute, causing hysteria among the several-hundred-strong blue and black army. What had hitherto been a trivial encounter, the goal sparked life into the game, and more crucially, into Manchester City.
City clicked into their typical attacking prowess and began to fire creative, incisive passes all over the pitch, and it paid off for them when Aguero brought proceedings level just six minutes later.
The Argentine doubled his tally less than ten minutes before half time through a penalty conversion – City’s first of their campaign – to earn a greatly-deserved lead at the break for last season’s quarter-finalists.
After the break the home side started the second half much on the same note they had finished the first; on the front foot and littering the Atalanta box with textbook chance creation. It was not long before Raheem Sterling put his name on the scoresheet, all-the-while seemingly sealing the three points for the Mancunians.
Over the next 11 minutes the 24-year-old netted twice more, rounding the scoring off at 5-1, and claiming the accolade of the third fastest hat trick in UEFA Champions League history.
The remainder of the game was coolly seen out by The Citizens as La Deafound their feet for the first time since Aguero’s equaliser. Throwing everything forward to find an elusive consolation goal, the Italians left an enormous hole in the defence which already-hat-trick-hero Sterling could explore, but he squandered his lines and failed to trouble Pierluigi Gollini in the Atalanta goal.
Although City were all but officially the winners, the rash challenges continued to fly in from Guardiola’s men, culminating in young starlet Phil Foden’s 82nd minute dismissal after two quite frankly unnecessary yellow cards. A further three players were cautioned.
Despite the man advantage, Atalanta were unable to pierce the sound Mancunian defence and so the match fizzled out with an insignificant final few minutes being seen out well by Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola said of the crushing victory: “All the credit is for Raheem. He’s a guy whose physicality is incredible. He is so strong.”
Quizzed on Sterling’s scope for improvement, Guardiola continued: “It depends on him. His desire, I think he has that. The desire to be better.”
The Etihad Stadium serves as something of a fortress for Guardiola’s Manchester City side who have now won six consecutive home matches in the continental competition.