A decisive opening goal was followed by an assist for Sergio Aguero to serve another reminder of his undoubted, improving, ability.
With less than two years left on his current contract, though, another impressive show will prompt the question why the club do not move quickly to secure the talents of the 23-year-old, just as they have in tieing Aguero to an extention.
Sterling’s skill was crucial in breaking down Brighton. Despite beating Manchester United twice for their only league wins in the last 16 matches, a visit to the Etihad has proved a difficult place from which to gain any satisfaction.
Eight previous meetings had resulted in six defeats and two draws, and the sight of their four-goal top scorer Glenn Murray starting on the bench offered an insight into Chris Hughton’s defensive tactical approach.
It worked during a sterile opening where City’s attacking artistes were shackled to the extent they needed acrobatics from Aguero to try to overcome the resolute visitors.
The first from a lovely, free-flowing move in the fourth minute that saw David Silva’s floated cross from the left find Sterling on the opposite side and he set up Bernardo Silva for a cute ball into the box. There lurked Aguero and the Argentine, with his back to goal, rose majestically to meet it, but Shane Duffy was well placed to make a vital block.
The second occasion saw Kyle Walker release Sterling in space and his cross picked out Aguero, but the outcome was a sliced finish off his right boot.
It summed up City’s start, disjointed and disappointing with Mat Ryan in the Brighton goal tested for the first time in the 26th minute when Sane stepped inside Davy Propper and a 20-yard drive thudded straight into the Australian’s chest.
Yet that moment was significant, lifting a home crowd frustrated by their side’s inability to overcome stoic and stubborn defending.
Suddenly City sparked into life and three minutes later they were ahead.
It was silky, smooth and engineered by the club’s own SAS. A quick break on halfway saw Aguero send Sane racing away into the box and his low cross was inch-perfect, eluding Gaeton Bong, for Sterling to slide home.
Pep Guardiola had praised the England frontman for showing more maturity than last season and more belief.
That was evident five minutes before half time when he teased and twisted the visiting backline before a rasping effort was pushed away by a strong left hand from Ryan, who then pushed away a 25-yard shot from Fernandinho.
The Brighton keeper was proving an imposing barrier to the home side’s bid to make their lead more comfortable.
But he was relieved to see Sane’s downward header bounce down and over the bar 12 minutes after the restart.
Moments later Lewis Dunk made another goal-saving block to deny Aguero before Ryan stood up superbly to thwart David Silva’s follow up.
Hughton’s men had shown great defiance, but they were breached by another moment of brilliance in the 65th minute.
Collecting the ball on halfway, Aguero collected a return pass from Silva and powered his way forward past a succession of Brighton players before passing to Sterling. City’s all-time leading scorer continued his run into the box to take Sterling’s return and swept a finish into the corner.
This was all done as Gabriel Jesus prepared to replace Aguero and the strikers subsequently swapped places. Guardiola showered Aguero, who matched Alan Shearer’s mark of 148 league goals for one single club, with affection as he came off. As per Sterling, he is also maturing with age.
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