Manchester City warmed up for Thursday’s pivotal Premier League battle with Liverpool by coasting past 10-man Southampton 3-1 at St Mary’s.
David Silva and Sergio Aguero struck for City, with James Ward-Prowse’s own goal also helping Pep Guardiola’s men get back to winning ways.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg fired a fine first-half goal for Saints, only to be sent off late on for a two-footed tackle.
City hit back from defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester with ease, reclaiming second place and cutting Liverpool’s Premier League lead to seven points.
The travelling City fans chanted “We’ll fight to the end” in a warning to Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp to avoid any premature title expectations.
And this comfortable south-coast victory now hands the reigning champions the chance to test Liverpool’s resolve when the league’s top two teams meet at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.
Hojbjerg’s rifled goal had City sweating when Saints equalised at 1-1, but straight after Ward-Prowse was rightly denied a penalty, the home winger put Raheem Sterling’s low cross through his own net.
Aguero’s facile header had City 3-1 to the good, and that enticing title fight with Liverpool looked even more exciting come half-time.
The fit-again Fernandinho solidified City’s shape, helping Guardiola’s men take the first step towards exorcising the memory of those costly consecutive defeats.
The excellent Alex McCarthy denied David Silva at point-blank range from the off, after Sterling picked Jack Stephens’ pocket in the area.
Charlie Austin spurned a gilt-edged chance with a heavy touch when clean through on goal after Mohamed Elyounoussi’s ball over the top.
David Silva made no mistake with his second chance though, tapping home after his namesake Bernardo sneaked round the back and flicked a cross into the centre.
Riyad Mahrez fired wide after a fine field-length City move, then McCarthy produced another fine reaction stop, this time from Aguero.
Austin drew a smart save from Ederson as Saints finally rallied – and then the hosts equalised.
Hojbjerg mugged the sloppy Oleksandr Zinchenko before striding into the box and lashing a rising drive past the stunned Ederson.
Zinchenko’s torrid afternoon continued unabated but the City full-back avoided conceding a penalty despite a clumsy challenge on the fast-advancing Ward-Prowse.
The luck stayed with City as the visitors broke and in a flash Ward-Prowse had turned Sterling’s cross into his own net.
City then glossed the half-time scoreline as Aguero escaped the struggling Jan Bednarek to nod home the visitors’ third.
Sterling drew another close-range save from McCarthy as City resumed brightly, though this time the Saints keeper deflected the ball with his head.
Aguero’s rasping shot on the turn struck the angle of post and bar, before Mahrez shot straight at the onrushing and alert McCarthy.
Hojbjerg’s red card cut through a low-key last half-hour where City merely conserved energy, knowing full well the real battle awaits on Thursday night.
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