Vincent Kompany has hailed Manchester City teammate Raheem Sterling as one of the best players in the world after his 13-minute hat-trick in the 3-1 win against Watford.
The victory at the Etihad on Saturday took the defending champions four points clear of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table but Jurgen Klopp’s men closed the gap to a single point on Sunday.
There was an offside debate over Sterling’s first goal and his second was a tap-in but his third highlighted his skill as he weaved into the area, cut back and fired past Ben Foster.
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“It’s incredible because his first year at City was tough, and then from the moment Pep (Guardiola) came in he just kicked on and went from strength to strength,” said City captain Kompany.
“For me, he is one of the best wingers in the world. He’s so important for us. To have the ability to unlock defences when they defend with so many bodies is the sign of a top, top, top player.”
Sterling’s strikes shifted what had been a frustrating game decisively in City’s favour. As in their two previous games, the score was 0-0 at half-time and City, despite dominating possession, needed to work hard for openings.
“These kind of games are much trickier than what people can see from the outside,” said Kompany, who has featured in City’s past five games.
“It’s mentally demanding because it puts you to sleep that you have so much possession and are bouncing against the same wall.”
City boss Pep Guardiola was more measured in his praise for Sterling, 24, who has now scored 20 goals for club and country this season.
“He scored three goals, we’re delighted, but he can do better,” said Guardiola. “The first half was not the best performance from him, but it’s good when not playing at the top level to be consistent and score the three goals.”
Guardiola hailed midfielder Ilkay Gundogan as an “incredible player in all senses” but again expressed concern over the German’s contract situation.
The 28-year-old has not been an automatic starter under Guardiola and has just one season remaining on his present deal.
Guardiola said: “I would prefer him to stay but at the same time I want to feel he wants to stay too. If he doesn’t want to stay, he has to leave.”