Albion 0 Manchester City 5

Albion have to be at their very best to trouble the Premier League superpowers, let alone beat them.

They reached high levels for a decent amount of the Liverpool game last Wednesday.

They also did so for a period against Manchester United, albeit when they were 3-0 down.

As a result, they emerged from those evenings with heads up and pride intact.

There was plenty of talk about their improved football under Graham Potter.

Against City, as a gruelling recent schedule perhaps caught up with them, it was all very different.

They were off the pace. Outclassed not just at times but for almost 90 minutes.

The result, for now, was a defeat which was ugly but could have been even worse.

What the ultimate outcome cannot be is a blow which knocks them off the rails completely for this run-in.

Albion dragged themselves off the Amex pitch knowing they were not safe from relegation just yet.

They are nearly there.

But, even if Premier League status is secured with games to go, they will want to finish as high as they can.

That means the sort of positive response Graham Potter fully expects as they tackle Southampton, Newcastle and Burnley.

Then it is on to the next phase of what is clearly a gradual rebuilding job.

The gap between the very best and the rest, especially those in the bottom half, has grown since lockdown.

The lack of a crowd to influence proceedings is one factor in that, as are the hectic schedule and the allowance of five substitutions, both of which favour bigger squads.

To narrow that gulf, Potter always reckons his team need to be good, they need a bit of luck and the opposition need to have an off day.

Well, City did not have off day. Their passing and movement were fabulous and the goal which opened the scoring was beautifully created.

They were the word Potter used recently to describe Liverpool - relentless.

At no point did it feel like they were relaxing at all or loosening their grip of proceedings.

At no stage did they ease off for a few minutes.

Never did Albion have the periods of pressure or even possession that they managed against United and Liverpool.

True, at least three of the goals were questionable from a defensive viewpoint, including a bizarre header by Raheem Sterling while lying on the ground to complete his treble.

But Albion also had luck on their side as both post and bar were struck.

Amid those massive tests at the Amex, that 1-0 win at Norwich felt big at the time and it has become bigger.

Potter said of the recent schedule: “We knew it was going to be a challenge.

“That’s why I think the Norwich game was such a big one for us in terms of getting the three points.

“While the performance wasn’t a great one, the three points were very important for us.

“I think it is about perspective for us all the time.

“We want to try and take points in every game.

“We want to try and be as good as we can but I’m not going to beat the boys up too much, to be honest.

“We can be better, we know that. At the same time, the opposition were fantastic.

“They really test you and they were worthy winners.”

What will bug Albion is that, while City’s football was slick, some of their goals were slapstick.

Yes, the opener was very clinical. There will always be negative aspects to look at if you are the team who concede.

Should they have cut out a pass en route? Should they have been closer to Sterling as he shot?

Might Ryan even have got a fingertip to the ball?

But Sterling’s check inside and low, right foot shot around Adam Webster and inside the far post were high class.

His second goal, to make it 3-0 early in the second half, was an agile header after some clever movement off the ball as he met Riyad Mahrez’s chipped cross.

But Albion will look at the mess they were at times when defending corners.

Eric Garcia had already given them a couple of let-offs before Gabriel Jesus nipped in behind the unaware Bernardo to prod home the second from a knockdown just before the break.

Potter highlighted that goal as “the really disappointing one, I think, from our perspective in terms of the timing and the manner of it, which makes it very difficult.”

Ryan should have held the initial Bernardo Silva shot before the same player followed up to make it 4-0 from the rebound.

And the final goal was comical, with Sterling lying on the ground as he sent a dropping ball through Ryan’s legs with his head after evading both Lewis Dunk and Webster.

Dunk diverted Jesus’s shot on to the bar in the first half after Kevin De Bruyne had dispossessed Davy Propper.

De Bruyne sent a free-kick against the post with Ryan nowhere near it at 2-0 and there were misses by Mahrez and Jesus.

Leandro Trossard flicked a header over and curled a shot wide for Albion in the first half but it was painful to watch from a home point of view.

Not so for Pep Guardiola, but he can see the direction in which Albion are going under Potter.

The City boss said: “It is the first season for Graham. The manager will need time.

“Graham is one of the best English managers I have met in the country with all respect to the other ones.

“He is and will be a successful manager because I have noticed how he is as a human being and as a manager.

“I am a big fan of the managers who try to play their own way and not just wait for circumstances or one moment to win the game.

“But sometimes you need more time because the way he wants to try to play is attractive, is seductive but it’s not easy.

“I admire these guys with maybe not the best players like the lucky managers like I am, to have exceptional players in my hands.

"I am pretty sure next season he will be in the Premier League and next season will be better for him and for Brighton.”