By Peter Hall
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) -Manchester City survived a spirited Leicester City fightback to earn a thrilling 6-3 victory on Sunday, a ninth Premier League win in a row moving them six points clear the top of the standings.
With second-placed Liverpool not in action after their clash with Leeds United was postponed due to COVID-19 cases at the Yorkshire club, City appeared out of sight midway through the first half at the Etihad Stadium.
The in-form champions raced into a fifth-minute lead through Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, before a Riyad Mahrez penalty put the hosts in control nine minutes later.
Things went from bad to worse for a Leicester side struggling to replicate last season’s form, with Ilkay Gundogan and another penalty, converted by Raheem Sterling, giving the hosts a four-goal lead inside 25 minutes.
Despite looking dead and buried, Leicester stormed back in the second half as goals from James Maddison, Ademola Lookman and Kelechi Iheanacho threatened to derail the league leaders.
Aymeric Laporte’s 69th-minute header and Sterling’s late second took the champions over the line, however, as they moved on to 47 points, six clear of Liverpool, from 19 matches. Leicester dropped to 10th.
“We just had to control the game,” Sterling told the BBC. “At 4-0 up you have to kill the game.
“Leicester have some really good players. They didn’t get disheartened and kept going. Credit to them.”
Leicester stunned Pep Guardiola’s side last season in the same fixture, thrashing their opponents 5-2 at the Etihad, thanks largely to a Jamie Vardy hat-trick.
Without their injured talisman this time around, a second successive win in the blue half of Manchester looked a distant dream for Leicester as City stormed into a four-goal lead.
De Bruyne’s fifth league goal of the season, a fierce strike from the edge of the penalty area, got the champions up and running, before Youri Tielemans conceded a penalty for a foul on Ruben Dias, with the spotkick emphatically put away by Mahrez.
Home goalkeeper Ederson pulled off a stunning save to deny Maddison, but that was only a brief reprieve for the visitors’ backline as Gundogan added a third in the 21st minute from close range.
City had won 4-0 in their previous league match and soon had a fourth against Leicester after Tielemans fouled Sterling in the area, with the England international getting up to score for a fourth consecutive league match.
Maddison’s third goal in as many games in all competitions, on the end of a through ball from former City player Iheanacho, gave the visitors hope, before Iheanacho again turned provider for Lookman to really worry the home crowd.
Iheanacho then reacted fastest to Maddison’s saved strike from distance to put Leicester within one of the champions.
Laporte’s towering leap from a corner ended the fightback, before Sterling’s late tap-in put the result, finally, beyond all doubt.
The encounter is the first ever Premier League game on Boxing Day to have as many as nine goals.
(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)