Raheem Sterling scored his third hat-trick of the season as Manchester City swept Brighton aside to ensure they will finish in second place in the Premier League.
City had lost their three previous away league games, including a defeat at Southampton last Sunday, but they never looked like suffering another slip-up on their return to the south coast.
Sterling, who now has 27 goals in all competitions for City this season, inflicted most of the damage on a Brighton side who never managed to make the game a contest.
The England forward put Pep Guardiola’s side ahead with a superb low finish from outside the area, collecting a Gabriel Jesus flick and cutting in from the left before firing into the opposite corner of the net.
More chances followed for City, and Jesus had a shot deflected against the bar before he got on the end of Rodri’s knockdown from a corner to make it 2-0.
The punishment did not end there for the Seagulls, as City continued to pour forward with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings, although a 19th league assist of the season eluded him
The Belgian fired a free-kick against the post after half-time and it was his driving forward run that led to Riyad Mahrez crossing for Sterling to head home City’s third goal at the far post.
Moments later it was 4-0, when Mat Ryan spilled Bernardo Silva’s shot and the Portuguese followed up to tap home.
Sterling, whose previous hat-tricks came against West Ham and Italian side Atalanta, had the final word in bizarre fashion when he chased a pass into the area and saw the ball bounce off the back of his head and cross the line as he was challenged by Ryan.
Brighton were completely outclassed and did not manage a single shot on target.
Sterling ensures City do not lack firepower
City knew before the weekend that they were sure of finishing in the top four, but they will not know if they will be in next season’s Champions League until Monday, when they find out the result of their appeal against their two-year ban from Europe.
They are still in this year’s competition, however, and their chances of negotiating a tricky looking route to next month’s final are surely improved by Sterling’s fine form in front of goal
He already had four goals in six games since the Premier League restarted and his haul at Amex Stadium means he has now surpassed the 25 club goals he scored last season and has made this his most prolific personal campaign.
Jesus, too, was able to add to his tally despite some poor finishing early in the game, and he has now hit the 20-goal mark in all competitions.
Even without the injured Sergio Aguero, there is clearly no shortage of firepower in this City side, although far tougher assignments than this one lie ahead.