Manchester City held off an unlikely Leicester comeback to clinch a ninth successive Premier League win in thrilling style and move six points clear at the top of the table.
It looked like the defending champions had wrapped up the points after only 25 minutes as they led a depleted Foxes side 4-0, with a penalty apiece by Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling on top of strikes by Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan.
Leicester had other ideas, however, with three goals in the space of 10 second-half minutes from James Maddison, Ademola Lookman and Kelechi Iheanacho giving them hope.
A header by Aymeric Laporte restored order and gave the home side much-needed breathing space, before Sterling’s second made sure of the points late on, but what had started out as a walk in the park will be remembered as a much sterner test for the league leaders.
- ‘A roller-coaster, so a typical Boxing Day’
Foxes hit by early onslaught
With second-placed Liverpool not in action after a Covid outbreak forced the postponement of their game with Leeds, this was a chance for Pep Guardiola’s side to open up a significant gap on their nearest rivals, and they were quickly into their stride.
The Foxes had already been fortunate to survive some fierce early pressure when they allowed De Bruyne time to bring down Fernandinho’s hoisted pass into the area and he made no mistake with a precise finish.
Mahrez made it 2-0 from the spot soon afterwards when Youri Tielemans hauled down Laporte at a corner and Gundogan added a third after Kasper Schmeichel could only palm Joao Cancelo’s cross into his path.
Sterling added a fourth after just 25 minutes, stepping up to take the penalty himself after Tielemans had chopped him down, and with the home side in such ruthless mood, it appeared it was just a case of how many more goals would follow.
Instead, it was Leicester who provided the sparkling attacking play after the break, and for a while a remarkable fightback looked on the cards.
The Foxes’ first goal was down to a slip by Oleksandr Zinchenko, allowing Maddison to dart clear, exchange passes with Iheanacho and slot home.
Iheanacho set up their second goal too, this time sliding Lookman clear to fire past Ederson, before getting on the scoresheet himself to continue his side’s comeback.
Ederson did well to tip Maddison’s shot onto the bar but the rebound fell kindly for Iheanacho, who made no mistake from close range.
That stunned everyone inside Etihad Stadium, including the travelling Leicester fans who had been chanting in jest about winning 5-4 when their first goal had gone in.
Manchester City’s wobble did not last long, however, with Laporte rising to nod home Mahrez’s corner five minutes later, and Sterling was in the right place to turn in a Ruben Dias knockdown before the end of a remarkable match.
A surprise to see Manchester City lose control
Manchester City have torn plenty of defences apart in recent weeks – going into this game they had scored 24 goals during their run of victories, including a 7-0 thrashing of Leeds – so their latest display of scintillating attacking play was not exactly a surprise.
What was unexpected was the response that followed from a Leicester side missing many of their regulars because of injury, and how easily they found a way through their hosts.
Guardiola’s side have the best defensive record in the country, but for a spell in the second half they were left chasing shadows and ended up conceding as many goals in 10 minutes as they had in their previous eight league games.
Leicester could have had more too – their manager Brendan Rodgers leapt into the air when Marc Albrighton headed wide from close range with the score at 5-3, because he thought it was in.
The Foxes have had a difficult season so far, with a lack of consistency and continuing defensive issues even before this latest bout of injuries, but they at least gave their supporters something to sing about on an entertaining afternoon.
The home fans probably appreciated the second-half drama a little less, but this was a reminder at the halfway point of the season that that they cannot always expect everything to go their way.
- Follow live text coverage of Sunday’s Premier League action
- Go to the Manchester City page
- Go to the Leicester City page
- 3Rúben Dias
- 17De BruyneSubstituted forFodenat 71′minutes
- 25FernandinhoBooked at 90mins
- 20Bernardo Silva
- 9Gabriel Jesus
- 23VestergaardBooked at 45mins
- 17PérezSubstituted forCastagneat 45′minutes
- 8TielemansSubstituted forChoudhuryat 71′minutes
- 10MaddisonBooked at 75mins
- Chris Kavanagh
Match ends, Manchester City 6, Leicester City 3.
Second Half ends, Manchester City 6, Leicester City 3.
Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Daniel Amartey (Leicester City).
Fernandinho (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Fernandinho (Manchester City).
James Maddison (Leicester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Goal! Manchester City 6, Leicester City 3. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) left footed shot from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Rúben Dias following a corner.
Attempt blocked. Rúben Dias (Manchester City) with an attempt from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Riyad Mahrez with a cross.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall.
João Cancelo (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (Leicester City).
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Marc Albrighton.
Offside, Manchester City. João Cancelo tries a through ball, but Ilkay Gündogan is caught offside.
Foul by Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City).
Daniel Amartey (Leicester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Marc Albrighton (Leicester City) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Luke Thomas.
Foul by Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City).
Luke Thomas (Leicester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left following a set piece situation.
- Our coverage of your Premier League club is bigger and better than ever before – here’s everything you need to know to make sure you never miss a moment