Ten-man City stormed back to winning ways with a stunning 3-0 win over title rivals Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.
First-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure were no more than the resurgent Blues deserved and even when Gareth Barry was sent off midway through the second period, James Milner added a third from the penalty spot to cap a terrific win over the Reds.
City now go three points clear at the top of the Premier League following their tenth consecutive home win this season.
What a difference 48 hours makes!
There was no tinkering with the starting line-up for this game – back came David Silva, Aguero, Gael Clichy, Micah Richards and Milner while Kolo Toure earned a recall at the expense of Joleon Lescott.
Mario Balotelli would have probably started in place of Edin Dzeko had he not failed a late fitness test as Roberto Mancini shuffled his pack to somewhere near what he will consider his strongest line-up.
For the visitors, a reluctant acceptance of Luis Suarez’s eight-match ban was announced on the eve of kick-off and skipper Steven Gerrard continued his gradual comeback on the bench where he was joined by former City favourite Craig Bellamy. Both would feature later in the game.
With just one win in 13 attempts against the Reds, the capacity 47,131 crowd settled down at a wind and hail-swept Etihad Stadium for a game that many believe might be pivotal to the Blues’ title challenge.
Just how would City respond to the disappointing trips to West Brom and Sunderland? A victory, it seemed, was crucial for confidence after the double set-backs over Christmas with Manchester United and Tottenham threatening to take over at the summit should the there be any more blips.
It was Liverpool who started marginally brighter and in the eighth minute, Kenny Dalglish’s side should have gone ahead as Stewart Downing raced clear only to be thwarted by a fine Joe Hart save.
It was to prove a costly miss as two minutes later, City were ahead.
Aguero picked the ball up on the left, drifted inside and rifled a dipping shot from 25 yards that somehow found its way under Pepe Reina’s body and into the net for his sixteenth of the campaign.
A minor weight lifted, the zip and sparkle that had been slightly amiss in the previous two games was once again evident and though Liverpool threatened from time to time, the Blues were denied what looked like a clear penalty when Martin Skrtel handled the ball – with arm raised – only for the appeals to be waved away.
No matter. Within minutes City had doubled their advantage when Yaya Toure headed home powerfully off the underside of the bar from Silva’s corner to underline the fact the Blues can still score goals!
There was still time in the first half for Vincent Kompany to make a fantastic last-ditch block almost on the line as the skipper ensured his team went into the break two goals to the good.
There was better to come in the second period, too, as the Blues consolidated their lead by keeping Liverpool at bay and within 60 crazy seconds, City had been reduced to ten men, won a penalty and gone 3-0 up!
Barry earned a second yellow for a shoulder barge and was sent for an early bath before Yaya Toure picked up a loose ball, ran 60 yards before being brought down in the box. It was a simple decision for Andre Marriner to point to the spot and Milner confidently tucked the spot-kick past Reina.
All in all, a terrific night’s work and normal service has been resumed!
Man of the match: Vincent Kompany