Pep Guardiola saluted the "extravagant" Rahm Sterling after a superb performance by the majestic winger of Manchester City and put an 11-minute hat-trick in Atlanta's 5–1 away match on Tuesday.
Guardiola's first half penalty for Ruslan Malinowski in the Champions League clash at the Etihad Stadium.
But Citi responded brilliantly as Sergio Aguero struck twice before the interval.
Sterling provided support for both Aguero goals, but the England star was still heating up.
After the interval, Sterling struck three times to complete a personal masterclass that underlined his rise in the Guardiola era from starring playwright to deadly finisher.
Sterling has emerged as City's driving force in the last 18 months and his second hat-trick of the season has confirmed his place among the best players in the world.
"All the credit goes to him. He is a man whose physicality is incredible. He is very strong, ”Guardiola said. "One game after a day, he can play another. His rise is incredible and he can play both sides. He is an exceptional player. "
Asked if the 24-year-old could be better, Guardiola said: "It depends on him, his desire, and I think he has."
The only disappointment for Guardiola was a late red card for young midfielder Phil Foden.
"He will learn. He said that after a yellow card he would need to be more careful, ”Guardiola said.
City's third successive Group C win left them at the top of the table, second-placed Dinamo Zagreb five points clear with three games remaining.
“It was an incredible effort because they have so much quality. That is why I am so satisfied with the result, ”Guardiola said. "Three more points in the next game and we'll be in the next stage."
Atalanta, who made his Champions League debut this season, is still searching for his first point after his third consecutive defeat.
Guardiola called on Citi to show that he has the mentality to win the "slight margin" needed to win the Champions League for the first time.
It was the perfect response as they survived the fall in the 28th minute.
For the second consecutive game, Guardiola had responded to City's defensive injury problems by deploying midfielders Fernando and Rodri as their two center-backs.
It was an inconvenient arrangement and when Josip proceeded to the Illyk City area, Fernandinho kicked out and punished one leg to travel to the Atalanta winger.
Malinowski misjudged Ederson with a spot-kick as City conceded their first goal in this season's tournament.
That setback drove City away from their sleep and Aguero scored on his first miss with a 34th minute draw.
Sterling deserved credit for a penetrating run and delicate cross that allowed Aguero to peel off his marker for a clinical close-range finish.
City had regained their rhythm and Sterling was again the catalyst in the 38th minute.
Moving into Atalanta territory at pace, Sterling was clearly implicated by Andrea Massiello and Aguero scored on a penalty.
It was Aguero's 10th goal in all competitions this season, a three-game drought for City's record scorer.
Roddery shut down just before half-time, prompting the introduction of John Stones after missing six matches with an injury, but not before Guardiola, extending his lost seat in frustration, to his slow rise from the bench. Ley appeared to chase the city defender.
"I think it would be 10 days but if it broke (torn), it would be three weeks," Guardiola said of Rodery's injury.
Sterling made it three in the 58th minute as he drilled into the roof of the net.
He had not finished yet and ran on Ilke Gundogan's pass before cutting back on his right foot for a fine finish in the 64th minute.
Capping a memorable evening for Sterling, five minutes later he scored his 11th goal of the season with a close strike from Riyad Mahrez's cross.