MANCHESTER, England — Three quick thoughts from Manchester City’s 3-1 Premier League win over Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
1. City back after their rest
Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne returned from a short break to mastermind a victory that extends Manchester City’s lead at the top of the Premier League to 16 points — for 24 hours at least. Aguero claimed four goals and De Bruyne a hat trick of assists as City beat the Foxes for the third time this season and created their biggest advantage at the top yet.
The Belgium midfielder had said he felt tired after last weekend’s draw with Burnley and Pep Guardiola responded by giving his first-team squad three days off. It worked a treat with his team looking utterly refreshed and full of energy as they took apart Leicester with a devastating display. It took just three minutes for De Bruyne to carve out the opener with a wonderful cross for Raheem Sterling to finish at the far post.
They didn’t have it all their own way, though. Leicester equalised in the 24th minute when Jamie Vardy punished a slack pass from Nicolas Otamendi to score with their first shot on target.
It could have set up an awkward second half, but De Bruyne and Aguero took control of the game and ensured that the blip of failing to win at Burnley seven days earlier didn’t become anything more serious.
Three minutes after the break, De Bruyne teed up Aguero with a delicious pass that the Argentinian couldn’t miss from two yards out. And five minutes later it was game over when De Bruyne laid an easy pass for Aguero to fire past Kasper Schmeichel for his 26th goal of the season.
Schmeichel’s shocking clearance set up Aguero to complete his hat trick, but City’s No. 10 saved his best moment of the game for injury time with a stunning 20-yard strike that smashed in off the underside of the bar to take his tally for the season to 28.
It was the seventh home game in succession that Aguero has scored and his 14th in 10 matches. That run has coincided with an injury to fellow striker Gabriel Jesus, who injured his knee ligaments in the final game of 2017.
It’s a stunning and vital personal contribution in a season when City keep breaking records. It’s now 19 wins from 20 games at the Etihad Stadium, and City need just seven victories from their final 11 matches for Guardiola to confirm his first ever Premier League title.
2. Sterling example
Sterling’s glaring miss at Burnley last week was highlighted as the game-changer as the Clarets fought back to snatch a point. So the England forward will have been delighted to have been presented with an almost identical opportunity just three minutes in.
The goal owed much to the exquisite vision and delivery of De Bruyne, which has become his trademark. His wonderful arching cross was gobbled up Sterling from two yards — virtually the same position where he fluffed his golden opportunity seven days earlier.
At Turf Moor, Guardiola had shown his frustration by hauling off the forward two minutes later. This time Sterling’s reaction was to look to drive City forward.
He had two possible penalty shouts in either half while he almost came close to scoring a second in the 41st minute. He darted onto a through-ball beating Schmeichel to the ball, but his low shot was cleared off the line by Aleksandar Dragovic, who punched the air in celebration like he’d just scored at the other end of the pitch.
Sterling now has 20 goals already this season — well clear of his best-ever total of 11 for a full season — and Guardiola needs him to carry on making a big contribution with Jesus and Leroy Sane still some time from returning from injury.
3. Leicester’s big two back and firing
There have been many changes since Leicester’s incredible title-winning season two years ago, but Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have remained their danger men. Leicester boss Claude Puel will be frustrated by the result, but the two players are at least a threat to any side in the country.
Mahrez only managed half an hour from the bench, but the fact he has finally put aside his disappointment of not making the move to City during the January transfer window will make him a vital part of the final months of the season.
The Algerian winger was back to his title-winning form in the first half of the season — with eight Premier League goals — before he was unsettled by City’s late interest in the window. Mahrez finally returned to training on Friday and it seems he has been welcomed by his teammates and the Leicester fans as well as Puel.
Vardy, meanwhile, continued to do what he has done for the past few seasons: leading the line with pace, determination and individual quality.
He was a constant menace to City’s Otamendi and £57 million club-record signing Aymeric Laporte, who had strolled through his debut against West Brom 10 days earlier but will now have learnt a lot more about the quality of the Premier League.
It was Otamendi who made the error for Leicester’s equaliser, giving the ball away. But Vardy had plenty to do, riding challenges from Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ilkay Gundogan before his shot went in off Laporte.
Leicester still have a shot at chasing a European place and with a fifth-round FA Cup tie against Championship side Sheffield United next Friday, the pair could be big players in the final months of the season.
Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.