City controlled possession but were lacking quality for much of the first half.
City’s play was disjointed, but as the half progressed we began creating chances. Sterling, the man of the moment, weaved his way past two challenges before having his effort blocked, and Joao Cancelo, always willing to get forward and supplement attacks, had his shot from distance saved.
But Villa, impressive this season after their promotion in May, weren’t going to lie down and die - and moments later, they were almost ahead when John Stones’ loose pass was pounced upon by John McGinn. His curling effort was saved by Ederson low to his right and former City midfielder Douglas Luiz almost got to the rebound but the ball was nicked away at the last by Cancelo.
The Etihad Stadium breathed a collective sight of relief.
City looked somewhat off the pace, but a moment of real quality almost opened up Villa. A slick passing move involving Gundogan and the electric Sterling ended with David Silva’s first-time effort going inches past the post. It would have been some goal.
The deadlock was broken seconds after the restart. A superb, pinpoint long ball from Ederson was deftly flicked on by Jesus, who was stronger than Tyrone Mings, and Sterling raced clear to finish expertly.
It was his 13th goal in 14 games this season, a remarkable return from one of the world’s best players.
Jesus was inches away from nodding home Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick, and the striker had an effort cleared off the line by the thigh of Mings. It wasn't going his way in front of goal.
City played out the final few minutes with 10 men after Fernandinho received a second yellow card and there was still time for further drama when Jesus' effort clipped the bar and McGinn hit the post for Villa with seconds remaining.
An entertaining second half and a vital three points.
Man of the Match: Raheem Sterling
It’s crazy to think Sterling’s ability was doubted for so long.
As recently as the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there were some who suggested he was uncultured and lacked the necessary calmness in the final third to really excel.
They were wrong.
Sterling has now scored 62 times for City since the start of the 2017-18 campaign. This season alone, he has 17 goals and eight assists in 18 matches for club and country.
Those are the kind of number produced by truly world-class players, which Sterling undoubtedly is.
After his 11-minute hat-trick put Atalanta to the sword on Tuesday, he was the catalyst for this victory over Villa. His pace frightened them throughout and his goal turned the game in our favour.
13 - Raheem Sterling has scored 13 goals in 14 appearances in all competitions this season, more than any other Premier League player in 2019-20. Star. pic.twitter.com/WsdHGwUp1C— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 26, 2019
Fernandinho made his 200th Premier League appearance for City today.
And David Silva set a new Club record of 267 Premier League starts, overtaking Joe Hart.
Villa: Heaton, Guilbert, Mings, Targett, Engels, Luiz, McGinn, Wesley, Grealish, Nakamba, Trezeguet
Subs: Steer, Taylor, Lansbury, Hourihane, Konsa, El Ghazi, Davis
What it means
City’s win cuts Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to three points, temporarily at least. The Merseysiders host Tottenham tomorrow.
Leicester sit third, two points behind City after their remarkable 9-0 win at Southampton on Friday evening.
It already feels tight at the top.
City face Southampton twice in five days.
On Tuesday, they visit the Etihad in the last 16 of the Carabao Cup, with City looking to win that trophy for the third-straight year.
Guardiola is likely to shake his team selection up once again for that one. There’s vast quality in this squad and he usually opts for a mix of senior stars and premium young players in that competition.
And the South Coast side return to Manchester on Saturday 2 November in the Premier League.
How will they react to suffering the Premier League’s biggest-ever home defeat?