RAMON SANCHEZ PIZJUAN STADIUM: If the first requirement of joining the European elite is a serene progress through the group stages of the Champions League, then Manchester City can at least reflect that their qualification for the knockout round with two games to spare shows a new maturity at a club that previously tended to do things the hard way.
Their victory over Seville last night was the first time in 11 home games in Europe that the Europa League winners have failed to win, and coupled with Juventus' draw with Borussia Monchengladbach, guarantees City a place among the round of 16. That Manuel Pellegrini's team did so with some style and panache suggests that they might be ready to survive more than one round after Christmas.
There was a fine performance from Raheem Sterling, whose mastery of the Sevilla captain, and right-back, Coke was capped when the latter was substituted in the second half. Sterling scored the first of two goals in the first 11 minutes as Pellegrini's team demonstrated the kind of ruthlessness that the best teams in Europe have always inflicted on inferior opposition.
There was an exceptional performance from Fernandinho too and with City now top of their group, that calamitous opening game defeat at home to Juventus feels some distance away. Their supporters booed the Uefa anthem but they are certainly warming to their place in this competition, which has proved such a problem for them in past season.
There are times when City have played as if they do not belong in this competition yet in this game, at the home of the Europa League winners for the two previous -seasons, the team from England swaggered about the place as if they had been playing at this level for 20 years.
They started magnificently, having been afforded acres of space in behind the Sevilla midfield, which seemed to be operating in a different time zone to the defence behind it at times in the first half.
While looking to Sterling to carry the ball forward, City beautifully exploited that shortcoming. The young Englishman showed that he can be as direct as anyone.
Sterling scored the first goal by running on to Fernandinho's ball inside Coke. From a decent angle in the left channel, Sterling slotted his chance past the goalkeeper Sergio Rico's left hand and comfortably inside the far post.
It was so open that there were times when City could hardly get into the space quick enough. They have the forward line to exploit that room. The second goal came when Sterling beat Coke and cut the ball back to Wilfried Bony.
When his shot bounced up off Rico, Fernandinho was on his own to head the ball into the unguarded goal. At Sevilla, where the club's -impressive trophy haul is commemorated on billboards at both ends of the ground, the mood changed to disbelief.
It would have been even worse for them if Jesus Navas, 10 years a Sevilla player, had scored another two minutes later. Cutting in from the right he struck his shot beyond Rico but it hit the foot of the post and came back at him. Soon after that, Sevilla's first chance came and Ever Banega lifted the ball just over the bar from a yard out.
The Sevilla goal came from Coke's run down the right channel into City's box, where he tricked his way to the byline and chipped it back across goal for the left-back Benoit Tremoulinas, who had decided to occupy the centre-forward position, to head in. This was turning into the best game of the group by some margin and Joe Hart's save from Timothee Kolodziejczak kept City's lead intact.
Sevilla, however, always looked vulnerable and they were a Yaya Toure break away from another good chance before Grzegorz Krychowiak intervened to foul the City midfielder, take the booking, and break up the attack. The third goal came from Navas, who cut the ball back to Bony from the right. On this occasion, the striker thought more about where he was going to place it, rather than how hard he could hit it, and picked a spot far out the reach of Rico.
By half-time, City had managed 16 attempts at goal and this without their playmaker Kevin De Bruyne whom Pellegrini had left on the bench in favour of the Fernando-Fernandinho axis in front of the -defence. For Fernandinho, this was a fine performance in which he closed down the space and picked pass after pass.
It was the same for Sterling. who almost made a second for Fernandinho with a cut back to the Brazilian on 53 minutes. The shot was saved but that was enough for Sevilla manager Unai Emery and his 28-year-old captain was summoned to the bench to spare him more -punishment.
The home crowd had mixed feelings about that but there was no questioning Sterling's performance. When De Bruyne replaced him with 18 minutes left, a few pockets of Seville fans stood to applaud him. This stadium was briefly home to Diego Maradona so it would be fair to say that they are not easily impressed but they recognised an opponent with whom they had not been able to live.