John Stones scored twice for Manchester City as Pep Guardiola’s resurgent title challengers cruised past Crystal Palace to go second in the Premier League.
Hours after Liverpool and leaders Manchester United shared a goalless draw, City capitalised to move within two points of top spot with their fifth successive league victory.
Stones opened the scoring with a header from Kevin de Bruyne’s delightful cross as the Belgian made it 100 assists in all competitions since joining the club in 2015.
The hosts were already in complete control when Ilkay Gundogan added a superb second from the edge of the box shortly after the break.
Stones, having previously never scored in the Premier League for City, then smashed in his second from a corner before Raheem Sterling curled in a free-kick for City’s fourth.
Guardiola’s side can go top if they win their game in hand, while defeat means Crystal Palace remain 13th.
After this victory, Guardiola can celebrate his 50th birthday on Monday knowing his side’s title ambitions rest in their own hands.
The Catalan hits that milestone as already one of the most decorated coaches in the modern era, with two Champions League triumphs complemented by eight league titles across three countries, but a third Premier League success looked a far cry when Manchester City sat 13th after a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham in November.
Guardiola’s side are undefeated in nine league games since and have now won five in a row to accelerate within touching distance of the summit with a game in hand.
This was a performance that showcased the best City have to offer at both ends.
Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola is not renowned for his defensive rigidity but his City outfit have conceded the fewest goals in the English top flight this season and this was their seventh clean sheet in the past nine games.
It was also the 10th time centre-backs Stones and Ruben Dias have started together in all competitions this campaign, with City shipping just one goal in that time.
They had the brilliance of De Bruyne to thank for unpicking a Palace side that had set up to frustrate the hosts in the first half.
The 29-year-old’s wonderful assist, a perfectly weighted outside-of-the-boot cross, found a rising Stones for the defender to head beyond goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.
That was Stones’ first Premier League goal since scoring for Everton in April 2015, and the England centre-back did not have to wait long for another as he pounced on a loose ball after the visitors failed to clear a corner in the second half.
It came after Gundogan curled in his fourth goal in the past six league games, while Sterling got in on the act late on with an excellent free-kick from the edge of the box.
Palace’s Etihad luck runs out
Roy Hodgson is one of the few managers to have got the better of Guardiola at Etihad Stadium, earning a win and a draw in Palace’s past two visits, but his side were outclassed on Sunday.
The visitors’ task was made harder with the absence of talismanic forward Wilfried Zaha, who picked up a knock in the goalless draw at Arsenal in midweek.
The Eagles struggled to earn a foothold in the game, managing just 27% of possession and watching City make almost three times as many passes as they could manage.
That said, there was little they could do to defend against the quality of some of Manchester City’s finishing, with the hosts only registering 0.7 for expected goals.
Hodgson will perhaps be concerned however that his side have now failed to score in 10 of their past 14 away games in the Premier League, including each of the last three.
The closest they came was a speculative Eberechi Eze attempt in the first half when the Palace playmaker spotted Ederson off his line, but his effort sailed over the crossbar.
City enjoying clean sheet haul – the stats
- Manchester City are the first team to record five consecutive victories in the Premier League this term.
- City have kept nine clean sheets in the Premier League this season – their most after 17 games of a single campaign in the competition.
- Kevin de Bruyne has now assisted 100 goals in all competitions for Manchester City, 32 more than any other Premier League player since making his debut for the club.
- De Bruyne has now made 10+ assists in a league season on five occasions while playing in the top five European leagues.
- Since De Bruyne did so for the first time in 2014-15 while playing for Wolfsburg, only Lionel Messi has managed it on as many occasions (also five).
- John Stones netted the third double of his senior career, having also scored twice against Feyenoord in September 2017 and for England against Panama at the 2018 World Cup.