John Stones scored twice as Manchester City moved into second place in the Premier League by sweeping aside Crystal Palace 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium.
With league leaders Manchester United and defending champions Liverpool sharing the spoils in a goalless stalemate at Anfield, City took full advantage to move within two points of first place.
On top of another top-class defensive display alongside Ruben Dias, Stones broke the deadlock 26 minutes in with his first league goal for City – Kevin De Bruyne the creator with a sensational cross to bring up his 100th assist for the club.
Ilkay Gundogan doubled the lead early in the second half prior to Stones celebrating an unlikely second, and a classy finish from Raheem Sterling wrapped up a fifth successive league win for Pep Guardiola’s ever-improving City.
In search of his milestone moment, De Bruyne attempted to tee up Sterling with a quick exchange of passes in the 26th minute, when the Belgian might have been better served to shoot.
Yet his 100th assist did not take long to arrive. His initial poor corner was cleared, but De Bruyne was found by Sterling and, with the outside of his right foot, placed a wonderful cross onto the head of Stones, who turned in his first league goal since he scored for Everton in April 2015.
Gabriel Jesus was unable to beat Vicente Guaita after latching onto Gundogan’s flick-on, but the Germany midfielder took matters into his own hands 11 minutes after the restart, robbing Andros Townsend on the edge of Palace’s box and dispatching a fantastic finish into the top-right corner.
Jordan Ayew mustered Palace’s second shot soon after, though it was blocked by Dias, who then played a key part in City’s third.
Dias’ header was parried out by Guaita, but the Portuguese’s defensive partner Stones was on hand to drill in his second.
Sterling had the final say, the England forward – who missed a late penalty against Brighton and Hove Albion – curling a sublime free-kick into the top corner to add further gloss to a resounding triumph.
3 – John Stones has scored the third brace of his senior career for club and country:
Sep 2017 vs Feyenoord (Champions League)
June 2018 vs Panama (World Cup)
Jan 2021 vs Crystal Palace (Premier League)
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 17, 2021
What does it mean? City looking ominous
City had made their worst start to a season since 2008-09, but since a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham on November 21, Guardiola’s men have not looked back.
It is now seven wins from nine in the league for City, who have conceded just twice in that run and, on this form, are surely set to be instilled as the outstanding favourites to clinch the title. Palace, on the other hand, are entrenched in mid-table.
Stones’ resurgence rolls on
Aymeric Laporte is not getting back in this City team any time soon if Sunday’s evidence is anything to go by.
Helped by a tepid, Wilfried Zaha-less Palace attack, Dias and Stones were once more in imperious form at the back for City, and the latter continued his dramatic turnaround in fortunes with two excellently taken goals – his third career brace for club and country.
De Bruyne magic gets things going
With what was his 75th Premier League assist, De Bruyne moved onto 100 goals created during his time with City.
It was, typically, a piece of unerring skill from the Belgium star, who placed a pinpoint cross directly to Stones. Since De Bruyne made his City debut in 2015, he has created 31 more goals than any other Premier League player.
City are set to host Aston Villa on Wednesday, though Dean Smith’s side have been suffering from a COVID-19 outbreak and have been unable to play since January 1.
Palace, meanwhile, welcome West Ham to Selhurst Park on January 26.