Manchester City returned to winning ways in style with a thumping win over Southampton that moves them 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
Riyad Mahrez and Kevin de Bruyne both scored twice as City delivered an emphatic and instant response to their defeat in Sunday’s Manchester derby, which had ended a 21-game winning run.
This was not the disciplined display typical of many of City’s victories this season but their incisive attacking, aided by some helter-skelter Saints defending, meant they still ended up convincing winners.
A strong Southampton start counted for nothing when Ryan Bertrand switched off and, from Oleksandr Zinchenko’s cross, De Bruyne swept home from close range after Alex McCarthy had kept out Phil Foden’s initial effort.
Saints, who had conceded nine goals at Old Trafford on their previous visit to Manchester at the start of February, quickly hit back through James Ward-Prowse’s spot-kick after Aymeric Laporte fouled Jannik Vestergaard from a corner.
At that stage it appeared City would not have things all their own way, especially when they were denied what appeared a clear penalty when McCarthy challenged Foden after mis-controlling a back-pass.
Foden seemed to pay the price for trying to stay on his feet as McCarthy lunged in – referee Jon Moss felt the Saints keeper got a touch on the ball, with VAR apparently not seeing anything to disprove that, although the City bench and players clearly felt otherwise.
In the end that decision did not affect the outcome, with Mahrez taking centre stage to put the home side in control before half-time.
The Algerian international restored City’s lead with a fine finish after intercepting a wayward crossfield pass from Che Adams and although the post denied him a second goal moments later, Ilkay Gundogan was on hand to follow up.
Mahrez picked up where he left off after the break, meeting a Foden pass to turn inside a crowded area and fire home City’s fourth.
Ward-Prowse briefly reduced the deficit after a defensive mistake but Southampton were guilty of far more lapses at the back and De Bruyne punished them when he burst clear from another Foden through-ball to complete the scoring.
With nine league games to go, City know six more wins will make them mathematically sure of their third title in four seasons.
The way this latest success was achieved was a throwback to earlier in Guardiola’s reign when they seemed happy to outscore the opposition, but the end result was the same – three points.
They had to work hard for them – a sluggish start had cost City dear in the derby and they were similarly slow out of the blocks here, only suffering far less damage.
Guardiola’s side sleepwalked through the first 10 minutes with the visitors enjoying 77% of possession in that opening period – but failing to land a meaningful blow.
Better teams would have punished City, but once De Bruyne scored on their first foray forward after 15 minutes, normal service was resumed.
Southampton still have a cushion of seven points above the relegation zone but their defending must be a major concern for boss Ralph Hasenhuttl as he plots his side’s survival.
West Brom are the only top-flight team to have conceded more goals than the 49 Saints have shipped this season and, if not for McCarthy and some sloppy finishing, City might have matched the tally their neighbours managed against them last month.
Of the goals City did score, Saints should have done better with four of them, paying the price for either blatant errors – such as the one Adams made for City’s second goal, or switching off when they had sufficient numbers back.
All of that undermined some enterprising attacking play. Southampton’s high press was effective, especially early on, but when City got past that, they did not encounter enough resistance.
City head for Craven Cottage to face Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday (20:00 BST) and a win will send them 17 points clear – nearest rivals United and Leicester do not play until Sunday.