MANCHESTER, December 26- Kevin De Bruyne starred with a goal and two assists as Manchester City closed to within three points of Premier League leaders Leicester City by overwhelming Sunderland 4-1 on Saturday.
Three first-half goals put Manuel Pellegrini’s side on course for the win at the Etihad Stadium, but it was overshadowed by an injury to Vincent Kompany.
City’s captain, returning as a second-half substitute after eight matches out with a calf injury, lasted only eight minutes before he had to come off.
Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony all scored in the first 25 minutes for Pellegrini’s team, with De Bruyne adding a further goal in the second half.
Bony then missed a penalty after Fabio Borini had pulled a goal back for Sunderland.
Pellegrini opted for a two-man attack, with Sterling working in partnership with Bony.
The former Liverpool forward’s first contribution was to pick up a yellow card for diving as he attempted unsuccessfully to convince the officials that he had been barged over by Sunderland right-back Billy Jones.
But the England international gave City the advantage moments later when he sneaked in behind Jones at the far post to head in De Bruyne’s cross.
City extended that lead moments later, with Toure collecting David Silva’s short square pass and turning away from a weak Jordi Gomez challenge before planting a low shot into the net from 20 yards.
Danny Graham headed wide a great chance to pull Sunderland back into the match minutes later, having found space to connect with Borini’s diagonal chip.
But City responded to that escape by scoring again, Bony climbing to head in De Bruyne’s free-kick from 12 yards.
– Exquisite back-heel –
Goalkeeper Vito Mannone was far too slow to get down as the ball bounced inside his left-hand post.
Sunderland’s defence were fortunate not to concede a fourth in the 25th minute, when Eliaquim Mangala chested the ball wide after Bony had flicked on a free-kick with the visitors in disarray.
Sunderland struggled to create chances, lone striker Steven Fletcher lifting an angled shot over the bar after getting in front of Mangala to reach Patrick van Aanholt’s left-wing cross, before Borini saw a shot beaten out at the near post by Joe Hart.
In between those two openings, though, they almost conceded a fourth goal, with Silva making a 30-yard forward burst before driving a shot just wide.
Sterling, meanwhile, was unfortunate to be judged offside as he slotted a shot into the net following a De Bruyne break.
City continued to carve open their opponents after half-time, with Mannone diving to his right to push away a shot from Silva, who had been played in by an exquisite De Bruyne back-heel.
Their fourth goal arrived nine minutes into the second half, with De Bruyne collecting the rebound after Sebastian Coates had intercepted his attempted pass to Bony before rolling a shot past the exposed Mannone.
City’s focus wavered a little after that, allowing Borini space to have two attempts before beating Hart from substitute Lee Cattermole’s low ball in.
The hosts should have had a fifth goal after that, but Bony lifted his penalty over the bar after Coates appeared to have fouled Silva just outside the area.
The major concern for Pellegrini, though, was the loss of Kompany, who looked to the skies in frustration as he walked off.