Sterling nets hat trick as City beats Atalanta 5-1 in CL
The England forward struck three times in the space of 11 minutes after Sergio Aguero had netted twice to cancel out Ruslan Malinovsky's penalty opener for the visitors at the Etihad Stadium.
"All the credit is for him (Sterling). He's a guy whose physicality is incredible. He is so strong," City coach Pep Guardiola said. "A day after a game, he could play another. His regeneration is incredible and he can play both sides. He is an extraordinary player."
City's victory lifted it five points clear at the top of Group C with three games still to play after Shakhtar Donetsk salvaged a 2-2 draw with Dinamo Zagreb in the other match.
"It was a really tough game against a really tough opponent. It was an incredible effort because they have a lot of quality," Guardiola said. "That is why I am so satisfied with the result. Three more points in the next game and we will be in the next stage."
However, there were a couple of negatives for City as midfielder Phil Foden was sent off for two bookable offences and Rodri hobbled off injured.
Manager Pep Guardiola also saw his team get off to a sluggish start which allowed Atalanta to make a lot of the early running.
Despite its poor record in the competition, Atalanta showed the attacking intent that has again lifted it to third in Serie A after finishing in that position last season.
City responded well and was back level within six minutes as Sterling ran across the edge of the box and clipped in a cross for Aguero to calmly tap past Pierluigi Gollini.
The hosts then stepped up a gear and soon claimed the lead with a penalty of their own — converted by Aguero — after Sterling was brought down by Andrea Masiello following another weaving run.
Atalanta offered little after the break and City took a firm grip on the game with a fine team goal just before the hour.
Sterling struck again soon after as he raced onto a defense-splitting pass by Ilkay Gundogan and wrongfooted a defender to fire home.
Remo Freuler put the ball in the net for Atalanta but was ruled offside before Sterling completed his treble by turning home an inviting cross by Mahrez.
City's night ended on a bad note as Foden, booked moments earlier for a foul, was shown a second yellow card for pulling back Atalanta midfielder Marten De Roon.
"It's a heavy defeat and the big disappointment is that we managed to score first," Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. "City are a great side but we should have done better and we could have scored more goals.
"My players did some good things, which we can build on, but of course, City are devastating with some space."