MANCHESTER — Leroy Sane hasn’t seen much game time this season because he did not return from preseason in good form, Pep Guardiola said after the player’s starring role in the 5-0 win over Crystal Palace.
Sane scored City’s opener and provided assists for Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero as City moved clear at the top of the Premier League on goal difference with an emphatic win over bottom side Palace.
The 21-year-old, who has five goals in his last five appearances for City, was making just his second start in the Premier League this season.
“He didn’t arrive good,” Guardiola told a news conference when asked why Sane has not featured much for his side this season. “He didn’t make a good preseason, he wasn’t good in the first games of preseason. He didn’t deserve to play.
“Now I have five strikers and all of them deserve to play. Gabriel is an amazing player, Bernardo Silva — every time he plays he creates for himself a lot things.
“Raheem, Leroy, Sergio all of them are going to play, but I need them sharp and Leroy for the last five, six months, certainly the second part of last season, was so important for us.”
Sane made the crucial breakthrough in the 44th when the game was relatively even despite Palace being rock-bottom without a point or goal this season.
Sterling added two more after the break, Aguero headed in the fourth to move him to within one of club record goal scorer Eric Brook before substitute Fabian Delph wrapped up the win with a stunning fifth.
Guardiola wasn’t happy with his side’s first-half performance and said everyone was too slow, even the ballboys with the City boss calling one into his technical area for a chat in the first half.
“If you analyse the first 30 minutes of today we were not ready,” he added. “Maybe it’s normal, for 90 minutes you cannot always be there.
“Everything was slow, the ballboys were slow, everybody was slow. We have to create the game. That team has to create and most of the first half we didn’t. The second half immediately the team was ready.”
Palace boss Roy Hodgson felt his side had matched City in the first half but felt they were punished ruthlessly once the goals went in either side of half-time.
“I thought at half-time to come at 1-0 down is a bit unfortunate. I thought we’d played some good football,” he said. “Two quick goals then and when they get a few up, with their quality, passing and movement it becomes very difficult.
“We know there is a lot of work to do with this group and they know that too.
“The goal before half-time was very damaging. We didn’t defend anywhere near as well as we should have done for that goal. We looked reasonably dangerous on the counter-attack but when they go 1-0 up we have to score. In the end we have been heavily beaten.”
Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.