Sterling and Bony come out of the shadows to pick up Aguero slack

Manchester City 5 Bournemouth 1: For Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony, 2015 has been a far from straightforward year. It would be very good news indeed for Manchester City if both men are ready to put a turbulent few months behind them.

In the absence of injury-prone top-scorer Sergio Aguero, who faces a month out with a torn hamstring, City manager Manuel Pellegrini needs reliable goalscorers elsewhere. Sterling and Bony have not always given the impression that they could fill that gap. On Saturday, though, they came good for the Premier League leaders.

Against Bournemouth, Sterling scored his first career hat-trick, giving something of an answer to the critics who suggest he lacks ruthlessness in front of goal. It is true that the England international could have had two more goals with more clinical finishing, but this was a start, at least.

“I definitely work on my finishing,” Sterling said. “It’s something I hope I’ll get better at. I’ll always get chances, and it’s down to me to finish them.” Sterling has not always been at his best for City, but there are signs he is settling down again following the months of unrest and public displays of discontent that preceded his €66m summer move from Liverpool. The second of his three first-half goals, in particular, showed a great sense of composure; leaving Bournemouth defenders Steve Cook and Sylvain Distin on the floor with a couple of neat feints before sliding the ball into the net.

Perhaps Bony is ready to take on a leading role too, having endured a frustrating time at the Etihad Stadium since a €38m move from Swansea in January. Pellegrini’s decision to switch from a two-man forward line to the deployment of a lone striker during the second half of last season meant that Bony has often kicked his heels on the bench, watching Aguero plunder City’s goals.

To make matters worse, Bony contracted malaria during a summer trip home to the Ivory Coast, causing him to miss his club’s pre-season programme. The striker, given the chance to lead the line in Aguero’s absence, visibly grew in confidence after being gifted a goal by Bournemouth’s stand-in keeper Adam Federici 11 minutes in.

By the end, Bony was showing the kind of form that prompted Pellegrini to pay so much money for him, turning smartly on to a Jesus Navas cross to direct a low shot into the bottom corner for his second goal. For a forward who had scored just twice in his previous 19 matches for City, this was something of a bonanza. Pellegrini would have expected his side to beat a Bournemouth team struggling to adjust to life in the Premier League after promotion, and ravaged by injuries to key players. The fact that City proved they can be prolific in Aguero’s absence, though, provided encouragement for their manager ahead of a testing week.

Sevilla visit on Wednesday in a Champions League group match that Pellegrini really needs to win, while next Sunday brings a Manchester derby at Old Trafford. With chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak indicating last week that a second successive season without a trophy will not be tolerated, the pressure on Pellegrini is not about to ease.

Bournemouth face a different kind of pressure. They were not helped by the loss of goalkeeper Artur Boruc to a thigh injury during the warm-up, and Federici was certainly culpable for two of the goals they conceded. They also had a strong penalty claim in the opening minutes, when Nicolas Otamendi brought down Dan Gosling.

Manager Eddie Howe acknowledged that his team made too many errors; having gone 2-0 down early on, they were given hope by Glenn Murray’s well-taken goal midway through the first half. By the interval, though, they had conceded four times, and it could easily have been more.

MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1):

Hart 6; Zabaleta 7, Otamendi 6, Mangala 6, Sagna 7; Fernandinho 7, Toure 8 (Fernando 46, 6); Navas 7, De Bruyne 8 (Nasri 62, 6), Sterling 8 (Iheanacho 77); Bony 7.

Subs not used:

Caballero, Demichelis, Kompany, Roberts.

BOURNEMOUTH (4-4-1-1):

Federici 5; Francis 6, Cook 5, Distin 6, Daniels 6; Ritchie 6, Surman 5, Gosling 6, Smith 6 (Pugh 77); O’Kane 6 (MacDonald 65, 6); Murray 6 (King 75, 6).

Subs not used:

Bennett, Cargill, Kermorgant, Tomlin.

Referee:

Mike Dean.

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