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.
City sparkle on eve of Pep’s big day
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.
“If there’s one guy who deserves it, it is John, he has struggled for many reasons in the past, it belongs to him how he overcame this,” said Guardiola afterwards.
“It’s just minutes for him. He deserves to play, he doesn’t make mistakes and he’s created a good partnership with Ruben Dias.”
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.
‘A good glass of wine’ for Guardiola
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola: “This is through the quality of the players, commitment and focus. We struggled the last two seasons to beat them here, we did a fantastic game.
“I don’t want to send any messages. It is Aston Villa on Wednesday. It is one game at a time. A few weeks ago we were points behind Liverpool and we win a few games and that’s what we have to do. Now I will drink a good glass of wine and then think about Aston Villa.”
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson: “In the first half we dealt with them quite well, we knew we would be under threat because of the quality they have and they’re in excellent form but I didn’t feel they were creating chance after chance.
“We defended well and kept our shape and made life difficult, it fell apart in the second half when we made one or two mistakes and surrendered it a bit too easily. Then they’ve got their tails up, the goals aren’t just any old goals but it’s still tough to lose by that margin.”
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.
Crystal Palace host West Ham on Tuesday (18:00 GMT), while Manchester City welcome Aston Villa 24 hours later (18:00 GMT).
- 3Rúben Dias
- 17De BruyneSubstituted forCanceloat 71′minutes
- 8GündoganSubstituted forTorresat 71′minutes
- 20Bernardo SilvaSubstituted forFodenat 60′minutes
- 9Gabriel Jesus
- 4MilivojevicSubstituted forRiedewaldat 68′minutes
- 10TownsendSubstituted forBatshuayiat 79′minutes
- 9J Ayew
- 3van Aanholt
Match ends, Manchester City 4, Crystal Palace 0.
Second Half ends, Manchester City 4, Crystal Palace 0.
Hand ball by Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace).
Phil Foden (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by James McArthur (Crystal Palace).
Goal! Manchester City 4, Crystal Palace 0. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) from a free kick with a right footed shot to the top right corner.
Ferran Torres (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by James McCarthy (Crystal Palace).
Ferran Torres (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Joel Ward (Crystal Palace).
Foul by Kyle Walker (Manchester City).
Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Crystal Palace. Michy Batshuayi replaces Andros Townsend.
Substitution, Manchester City. João Cancelo replaces Kevin De Bruyne.
Substitution, Manchester City. Ferran Torres replaces Ilkay Gündogan.
Substitution, Crystal Palace. Jairo Riedewald replaces Luka Milivojevic.
Goal! Manchester City 3, Crystal Palace 0. John Stones (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner following a corner.
Attempt saved. Rúben Dias (Manchester City) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne with a cross.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Luka Milivojevic.
Hand ball by Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace).