Second-half goals from Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva put Manchester City back on top of the Premier League as Brighton were consigned to a 3-0 defeat.
Liverpool had moved to the summit with a 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola’s side responded 24 hours later to keep their fate in their own hands in the title race as the manager secured the 250th win of his City tenure.
Deflected strikes from Mahrez and Foden put the champions in command at the Etihad Stadium and Silva added a third as they moved a point ahead of the Reds with six games to play after losing to Jurgen Klopp’s men in an FA Cup semi-final last Saturday.
City had been without a win in three matches, but normal service was resumed in their quest for a Premier League and Champions League double.
Moises Caicedo spared Robert Sanchez’s blushes when he produced a brilliant challenge on Mahrez after the Seagulls goalkeeper gifted the City winger a chance to open the scoring early on with a terrible pass.
The hosts were not at their devastating best in the first half, but Brighton had another let-off when they made a mess of trying to play out from the back again and this time Lewis Dunk came to the rescue by blocking Ilkay Gundogan’s strike.
The fit-again Ruben Dias replaced Nathan Ake at the break to make his first appearance since March 1 and the City defender was fortunate to get away with late challenge on Alexis Mac Allister soon after his introduction.
Kevin De Bruyne was the architect for the opening goal eight minutes into the second half, bursting forward from inside his own half before picking out Mahrez, who benefited from a couple of fortunate deflections before his finish struck Dunk and beat Sanchez.
Foden doubled City’s lead 12 minutes later, this time Enock Mwepu sticking out a leg in an attempt to keep out the midfielder’s drive from outside the box but seeing the ball flash past a helpless Sanchez.
There was concern for City when John Stones was withdrawn late on after sustaining an injury, but Silva put the icing on the cake with a clinical left-foot finish in the 82nd minute as Brighton shot themselves in the foot again trying to play out from the back.
What does it mean? Slick City step it up to regain top spot
It was not a vintage display from City in the first half, but they stepped it up after the interval to secure a comfortable win.
There was an element of fortune about Mahrez and Foden’s goals, but Guardiola’s side deserved it as they were relentless in the second half both in and out of possession.
Brighton came into the game on the back of wins over Arsenal and Tottenham, but did not do themselves any favours as they persisted with trying to pass their way out of danger and could have lost by a bigger margin.
De Bruyne a driving force
The return of De Bruyne to the starting line-up was a huge boost for City and the midfielder, injured against Atletico Madrid last week, was outstanding.
Belgium playmaker De Bruyne was hugely influential in the middle of the park, laying on the opening goal for Mahrez and steering the ball into Silva’s pass to complete the scoring late on.
Sanchez was lucky to get away with presenting Mahrez with a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the first half and, although he could not have saved any of the three goals, his distribution left a lot to be desired.
Key Opta Facts
– Manchester City have never lost a home league match against Brighton and Hove Albion in 12 previous meetings (W10 D2), facing the Seagulls more often without losing at home than any other opponent in their league history.
– Since they joined the Premier League for the 2017-18 season, Brighton have lost more league matches against Manchester City than any other opponent (nine defeats).
– Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League, meaning they have now led the table for 137 of the last 138 days since December 4.
– Since the start of February, only Watford (8) have lost more Premier League matches than Brighton (7), who are also the lowest scorers in the division in that time (6 goals).
City will be expected to beat lowly Watford at home on Saturday, while Brighton entertain Southampton on Sunday.