sterling
AFP PHOTO

Raheem Sterling kept up a remarkable personal record against Bournemouth as his goal in Manchester City’s 3-1 win helped the champions move five points clear at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.

Sterling struck from close-range in the second half at the Etihad Stadium to restore City’s lead, making him the first player to score in each of his first six Premier League appearances against a single opponent.

The England winger’s fine second-half performance was crucial to securing a sixth successive league victory for the unbeaten leaders, who had produced an uneven display in the first half.

Callum Wilson’s header drew Bournemouth level just before half time, following Bernardo Silva’s opening goal for City.

The visitors proved awkward opponents even as they fell to a fourth successive league defeat, which was sealed by Ilkay Gundogan’s late goal.

This was the first of nine matches across three competitions during December for City and manager Pep Guardiola is aware of the need for rotation to avoid burn-out.

To that end, he gave Gabriel Jesus a first Premier League start for three months and left Sergio Aguero out of the squad altogether, citing a minor muscle problem for the Argentina forward.

That was one of five changes made to the line-up that had started the 2-2 Champions League draw in Lyon four days earlier.

Fernandinho was retained in midfield as captain, even though Guardiola has indicated more than once over the past fortnight that the 33-year-old will need to be rested at some point during the month.

For the first 20 minutes, it appeared as if City would get the job done comfortably, despite so many changes.

Bernardo Silva, restored to the team after missing two matches with a minor injury, swept in the opening goal in the 16th minute.

He struck after Leroy Sane darted in from the left, behind the ball-watching Simon Francis, to reach Oleksandr Zinchenko’s pass and forced goalkeeper Asmir Begovic off his line to block.

– City surge –

City had dominated the possession up to that point, without making Begovic work too hard.

Perhaps it was too easy for Guardiola’s side, because they started to get complacent; possession was squandered as passes went astray too easily.

They had a warning when Joshua King’s cross zipped beyond Wilson in the centre and sped towards the far corner of the net, with Ederson reacting sharply to push the ball away.

That warning was not heeded, and Wilson equalised in the penultimate minute of the half, rising above Nicolas Otamendi and Danilo to head in a fine cross from Francis.

City worked hard to try to reassert themselves, and Sterling almost restored their lead at the end of a mazy run past five Bournemouth players, with a shot that hit Andrew Surman and deflected against the post.

The winger’s frustration was only temporary, though, as he made it 2-1 in the 57th minute, feeding a pass for the onrushing Danilo to shoot, and then turning in the loose ball after Begovic had failed to hold on.

City pushed for further goals, with Jesus almost scoring for the first time in the league since August with a glancing header from Gundogan’s free-kick that Begovic pushed aside, before Sane somehow failed to get a touch to Fernandinho’s drive.

The third goal did arrive with 11 minutes left; Sane gathered a loose ball following a short corner, played a one-two with substitute David Silva and crossed low for Gundogan to turn in from eight yards.