LONDON (AFP) - Manchester City made a flying start to their Premier League title defence as Raheem Sterling's hat-trick inspired a 5-0 demolition of West Ham on Saturday (Aug 10).
Pep Guardiola's side are bidding to become just the second club in the Premier League era to win three successive titles.
And after Liverpool laid down an early marker with a 4-1 win against Norwich in the season's opening game on Friday, the champions responded with a swaggering display of their own at the London Stadium.
Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring to repay Guardiola's faith after the City manager picked him instead of the club's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero.
Then Sterling took over, replicating his dynamic form of last season with a two classy finishes.
Substitute Aguero bagged City's fourth with a penalty after his first effort from the spot was saved, only for VAR to call for a retake after Lukasz Fabianski came off his line too soon.
Sterling wrapped up his treble in the final moments as City showed they have no intention of conceding any early ground to European champions Liverpool, who finished just one point behind them last term.
"The most important thing was to start well and get the win. Once the second goal went in I thought we were brilliant,"
Sterling told BT Sport. "It was quite difficult in the first half. Some of our touches were sloppy but once the team got into a rhythm the passes came and more chances came. "With the players we have here there are competitions in training every day. It's a joy to put the ball in the back of the net."
Guardiola had admitted before kick-off that City might have to do even better than last season to fend off Liverpool.
This was the perfect start as City made it nine successive opening-day wins.
City had won all four of their previous visits to the London Stadium by an aggregate score of 17-1, netting at least four goals in each match, and once again they ran riot at West Ham's expense.
Guardiola was pleased with his team's second half display but had some critical words for their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
"It was difficult away from home, 1230 kick-off, hot. The first half was not good. We didn't control second balls and lost a lot of balls," said the Spaniard.
"It was important to get three points, a clean sheet. At 2-0, they have a chance. Overall for the first game it is an incredible result.
"The second half was much better. More calm, but still we have many things to improve."
He said the VAR decisions were a reminder of the need for a team to keep their cool in what are still unusual situations.
"You have to be mentally strong when VAR is not on your side. You think at 0-3 the game is almost over but at 0-2, the game is completely different. You have to be calm and be strong, it is going to change the dynamic not just for the team but for the spectators," he said.