Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick as Manchester City extended their Premier League advantage to 12 points with a win that kept Norwich in the relegation zone.
For the defending champions, the England forward curled in a lovely opener before grabbing his second with a straightforward header from close range 20 minutes from time.
In the 90th minute, the 27-year-old accomplished his hat-trick, but only after Angus Gunn saved his penalty and Sterling tapped in the rebound.
After the break, Phil Foden scrambled in City’s second to put the game beyond Norwich, who had earlier hit the post with a header from Grant Hanley.
The visitors, on the other hand, were in charge and appeared to be at ease at Carrow Road.
Since October, Pep Guardiola’s team has gone undefeated in the league. Liverpool, their nearest contender, has two games in hand.
The Canaries are still in 18th place, one point and one place out of a playoff spot, despite having played more games than the teams around them.
Sterling impresses as City pushes forward
Guardiola made five changes to his team ahead of a trip to Portugal to face Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, but he didn’t compromise any of City’s flowing offensive prowess.
Bernardo Silva found the inside of the far post with a low, measured attempt after Foden was caught offside by a well-drilled Norwich defensive line.
Despite their comfortable lead over second-placed Liverpool, who host Burnley on Sunday, Guardiola insists his team is “in a race to win the title.”
The Spaniard also believes it will take more than 90 points to beat Jurgen Klopp’s side this season, and City appeared to be on their way to achieving that goal when Sterling scored shortly after the half-hour mark.
Sterling was on the outside of the box when Kyle Walker’s cross fizzed all the way through, and he moved it to his right foot before bending a stunning effort into the far corner for his first Premier League goal since December.
City has only lost two of their last 46 Premier League games when leading at halftime, and Foden’s goal just after the break made Norwich’s task much more difficult.
The 21-year-initial old’s shot was stopped at close range by home goalkeeper Gunn, while Canaries defender Hanley sought, but failed, to hook the second off the line.
Since losing to Crystal Palace in October, City had not lost in 15 league games, and when Sterling added his second from Ruben Dias’ nod down, Guardiola used the opportunity to give some of his younger players minutes, with Liam Delap, James McAtee, and Kayky all coming in.
Delap, who is 19 years old, won the penalty that allowed Sterling to complete his fifth league hat-trick for the club, but he had to tap in the follow-up after Gunn saved his initial spot kick.
Norwich were outclassed, although they showed some promise
Since Dean Smith’s appointment, there appears to have been a mindset shift at Norwich, and the manager stated beforehand that it would be “11 humans v 11 humans,” as he wanted his team to think they could trouble the league leaders despite their own perilous position.
The Canaries made a promising start, taking the game to City when in control, and Teemu Pukki challenged Ederson from a tight angle before Hanley’s thunderous header struck the post.
But City can blow teams open in an instant, and goalie Gunn, who had just made a brilliant save from the same guy, had little chance with Sterling’s curling opening.
The hosts’ resolve seemed to be broken, as they succumbed to City’s merciless attack, although Smith will take some positives from his team’s performance.
He also understands that Norwich’s destiny will not be determined by their results against the top two – they face an onerous journey to Liverpool next – and will aim to replicate the moments when they put City to the test in the games against their relegation opponents still to come.