Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City thumped Leicester to move 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
The Argentina striker took his tally to 13 in 10 games in 2018 with another display of deadly finishing, aided by a brilliant performance by Kevin de Bruyne, who set up his side’s first three goals.
Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez, who almost joined Manchester City at the end of January, received an ovation from both sets of fans as he returned from his self-imposed exile to make an appearance as a second-half substitute.
Whether Mahrez’s move to Etihad Stadium is resurrected in the summer remains to be seen, but this display from Pep Guardiola’s side showed that they can cope pretty well without him – especially with De Bruyne and Aguero in this form.
De Bruyne picked out Raheem Sterling at the back post to put the home side ahead in the third minute, with Sterling converting from almost an identical position to where he had missed against Burnley last weekend.
Leicester, playing with five at the back and using Jamie Vardy’s pace on the break, did not roll over and levelled when Nicolas Otamendi’s mistake let the England striker in to score.
But Manchester City resumed control with two goals in the space of five minutes at the start of the second half.
Another brilliant De Bruyne cross put the ball on a plate for Aguero to fire home from close range and the pair combined again soon afterwards, with De Bruyne slipping the Argentine clear to score with a powerful finish.
Aguero, who has now scored in seven consecutive home games at Etihad Stadium, was not finished yet and helped himself to his fourth goal with a dinked finish from Schmeichel’s disastrous clearance.
And he completed the scoring with his best goal of the night, collecting the ball from substitute Phil Foden on the edge of the area and finding the net via the underside of the bar.
Aguero firing Man City nearer to the title
- Aguero has scored in seven consecutive games at the Etihad Stadium in all competitions (14 goals) for the first time in his Manchester City career, including two hat-tricks in his last three games.
- This was the third time Aguero has scored four or more goals in a single Premier League match, more than any other player in the competition’s history.
- Aguero is the fourth player to score 20 plus goals in four consecutive Premier League campaigns – after Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry (five) and Harry Kane.
Injuries mean City lack attacking options at present – their three forward players on the bench against the Foxes, Lukas Nmecha, Foden and Brahim Diaz are all teenagers.
But Aguero has not ducked the responsibility handed to him since Gabriel Jesus was injured against Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve and his form since then has been devastating.
The 29-year-old now has 21 Premier League goals for the season and, although he remains 12th on the all-time PL scorers list, he is now only one behind Robin van Persie and three off Teddy Sheringham who are immediately above him.
With De Bruyne pulling the strings, Aguero will not lack chances to add to his tally although he will have to wait for his next opportunity in the Premier League.
Because they are in FA Cup and then the Carabao Cup final, this was Manchester City’s last league game of the month.
Their next one is against Arsenal, also their opponents at Wembley, at Emirates Stadium on Thursday, 1 March.
By then, second-placed Manchester United could have closed the gap to 10 points if they win their next two games, but on this evidence, City fans will still have little to worry about.
Analysis – One of the best ever
Former Manchester City and Leicester striker Paul Dickov on BBC Radio Leicester:
“It is hard to compare eras. There is Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ who went the whole season without losing, but this team is better.
“People will say they haven’t won anything – they have already won the league.
“The confidence, the enthusiasm, the age of the team. This team will go down as one of the best ever.”
Vardy, a big game player – the stats
- Manchester City have won 23 of their 27 Premier League games so far this season (drawn three, lost one), as many as they had in the entirety of 2016-17 in 38 matches.
- Both of Manchester City’s two quickest goals in the Premier League this season have been scored by Raheem Sterling (38 seconds v Watford and 125 seconds v Leicester City).
- Since making his debut for Werder Bremen in August 2012, Kevin de Bruyne has provided 77 assists in the big five European leagues – more than any other player in that time. The next best is Barcelona’s Lionel Messi with 76.
- Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy has scored in each of his last four Premier League games, his longest streak since his record 11-game run in Leicester City’s title winning season.
- Vardy is the first ever player to score against each of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham in the same Premier League season.
Manchester City are in action in the Champions League on Tuesday with the first leg of their last-16 tie with FC Basel in Switzerland (19:45 GMT) and return to domestic duty on Monday, 19 February with their FA Cup fifth-round tie at League One leaders Wigan, which is live on the BBC (19:55 GMT).
Leicester are also still in the FA Cup and host Championship side Sheffield United on Friday.
More to follow.