There will be a title race after all. Manchester City, the champions, delivered a timely statement in the north-east tonight, clinically dismantling a team who had proved problematic for the previous four seasons. They were not allowed to be last night. City were that good, and Sergio Aguero was once more outstanding.
The two goals he scored to lead City to victory – the first and the fourth – means that he has scored 30 times in his last 33 Premier League games. It is a phenomenal record.
For periods he was breathtaking, his opening strike, after Sunderland had gone ahead, was devastating in both its execution and its timing, coming two minutes after Connor Wickham’s opening strike for the hosts.
After that it was a formality, but the sheer quality of the champions’ goals was a reminder of the folly of dismissing them so early in the season. This was their fourth successive victory, but none in that resurgent run has been so doused with authority.
Sunderland should really have taken their lead earlier. Will Buckley, who had been recalled because of injury to Adam Johnson, beat a leaden-footed City back line’s off-side trap and burst through on the left side of the visitors’ penalty area after only six minutes.
To his manager’s consternation, rather than bear down on Joe Hart, with a clear run on goal, he squared to Jack Rodwell and a tame shot was blocked by Pablo Zabaleta.
Aguero had given warning, if any was really needed, of the threat he posed and of what was to come when he shot over in the 15th minute, and there were similar signs that City were finding their feet when Jesus Navas twice crossed dangerously into the Sunderland six-yard area.
That appeared forgotten when Seb Larsson slipped a fine, angled pass through to Wickham in the 19th minute. However, in attempting to clear, Zabaleta contrived to kick the ball off the Sunderland forward and it flew past Hart into the goal.
It stirred memories of the last four fixtures between these sides at this ground, all won 1-0 by Sunderland. Or at least it did for two minutes.
At that point Aguero took control. He was 25 yards from goal and tempted Sebastian Coates into a tackle just outside the Sunderland penalty area. The Uruguayan bit, and went for the ball. Aguero was past him in the blink of an eye and the finish that followed, a right-footed drive from 16 yards, was vicious.
That it was their first goal at the Stadium of Light since 2010 did not matter as the Premier League champions took control. Navas and Samir Nasri shot over and wide and, in the 39th minute, Yaya Touré fired in a bullet of a pass to the Argentina forward, once more on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area.
To each side of him was a defender but Aguero took the pace off the ball and flicked it into the path of Stevan Jovetic in one delightful touch. Jovetic, around 12 yards from goal smashed his team ahead. It was fully deserved.
The game-ending third came early in the second half and it was laced with quality. Zabaleta played the ball to Nasri on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area. Nasri’s vision was exceptional, as he probed the ball back to the overlapping right-back. The finish was equally outstanding, as, from a tight angle, Zabaleta chipped the ball over the towering frame of Costel Pantilimon.
Sunderland were beaten. The fourth came with 19 minutes remaining. James Milner, who had only been on for quarter of an hour, whipped in a low cross from the right and Aguero was ahead of his man to clip a first-time shot from eight yards into the bottom corner of the home goal.
Aguero was replaced by Frank Lampard three minutes later. There was applause from sections of Sunderland’s support. There deserved to be.Reuse content