Job done: Sterling fires Manchester City into Champions League last 16 with two games to spare
Manchester City secured their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with two games to spare with a hugely impressive 3-1 win at Sevilla on Tuesday.
Early goals from Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho put the visitors in command.
Benoit Tremoulinas pulled a goal back for Sevilla, but Wilfried Bony restored City’s two-goal cushion before half-time.
Borussia Moenchengladbach’s 1-1 draw with Juventus in the other game in the group means City cannot now be caught by the Germans, or Sevilla due to their superior head-to-head record.
Victory takes City a point ahead of Juventus at the top of Group D with the two set to meet in Turin in three weeks’ time.
“I am very happy because I think we played a complete game. We were good physically, technically and tactically,” said City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
“We defended very well, we scored three goals and missed four or five clear chances to score more.
“It is important to be qualified two games before, but we want to qualify first in the group.”
Kevin de Bruyne had fired a late winner when the sides met at the Etihad two weeks ago as Sevilla pushed City all the way.
However, Sevilla boss Unai Emery admitted his side couldn’t cope with a City side firing on all cylinders.
“We knew they had pace on the counter attack and they were very efficient,” he said.
“City’s response was that of a top team in the Champions League.”
De Bruyne was left out of Pellegrini’s starting line-up in favour of Jesus Navas on his homecoming after making nearly 400 appearances for Sevilla.
Yet, even without the in-form Belgian and the injured Sergio Aguero and David Silva, City started at a whirlwind pace and were 2-0 up inside 11 minutes.
Sterling opened the scoring with his first European goal for City as he was played in by Fernandinho’s fine through ball and slotted calmly into the far corner.
The pace of Sterling and Navas was causing Sevilla endless problems on the counter-attack and the visitors should have made more of an overlap when Sterling teed up Aleksandr Kolarov to fire an effort that Rico parried to safety.
Sevilla’s reprieve only lasted a minute as another counter-attack saw Sterling set up Bony, and although his inital effort was brilliantly saved by Rico, Fernandinho was on hand to nod into an empty net.
Navas then fired against the post as City threatened to run riot.
However, Sevilla managed to wrestle themselves back into the game as the half wore on.
Fernando Llorente fired the first warning Joe Hart’s way when he just couldn’t turn Vicente Iborra’s header on target.
The hosts did get a goal back in some style on 25 minutes when Coke skipped past Nicolas Otamendi and his deft cross was headed in by Tremoulinas at the back post.
Only a fantastic stop from Hart then prevented a Sevilla equaliser as he got down to parry Timothee Kolodziejczak’s header before Iborra could only fire the rebound into the side-netting.
Yet, Sevilla undid all their good work nine minutes before the break when Navas was given acres of room down the right to pick out Bony to side-foot home his first Champions League goal.
City should have added to their lead after the break as Rico again came to the hosts’ rescue to beat away Fernandinho’s fierce effort before Bony slotted wide with the goal at his mercy after more good work by Sterling.
Yaya Toure was inches away from rounding off arguably City’s most accomplished Champions League performance 18 minutes from time after a lovely one-two with Bony.
Sterling was replaced by De Bruyne to a smattering of applause from the Sevilla fans, which spoke volumes of the Englishman’s display.
But De Bruyne had little time to add to his six City goals as Pellegrini’s men comfortably saw out the final stages to take their place in the last 16.