Manchester City hit back after a dismal week off the field with a commanding display on it as they overpowered Aston Villa 3-1 on Sunday.
The champions were rocked when they were charged with 115 breaches of the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play regulations on Monday.
The players responded to the furore with one of their best displays of the season, racing into a 3-0 half-time lead with goals from Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez.
Ollie Watkins pulled one back after the break but the visitors were no match for a fired-up City at a raucous Etihad Stadium and did not threaten to get back into the game.
The result put City firmly back in the title race, just three points behind leaders Arsenal with the chance to go top when they play the Gunners on Wednesday.
City manager Pep Guardiola had issued a rallying cry with a passionate defence of the club prior to the game.
His attempt to rouse his side from a slump with his ‘happy flowers’ rant last month may ultimately have failed, given last week’s loss at Tottenham, but this time the effect of his words seemed clear.
The fans answered the call first by creating an imposing atmosphere, starting with vociferous booing of the Premier League anthem.
There were further chants deriding the competition and supporting owner Sheikh Mansour. There was even a banner hailing Lord Pannick, the high-profile lawyer reportedly hired to fight City’s case.
The players fed off this and raced out of the traps. They took the lead within four minutes as Rodri broke free at a corner and met Mahrez’s cross with a thumping header that flew inside the near post.
Villa struggled to live with the pace and intensity of the hosts and almost conceded again when Rodri slid in Gundogan but Emiliano Martinez deflected his effort wide.
Gundogan then put the ball in the net with a powerful drive but it was disallowed for a foul on Martinez by Erling Haaland in the build-up.
Haaland then sliced over, Bernardo Silva had an attempt blocked and Martinez flicked wide from Jack Grealish as the pressure mounted.
Even when Villa had a rare opening and Leon Bailey raced clear, Ruben Dias showed City were similarly determined in defence with a strong challenge.
The second goal arrived after 39 minutes. Callum Chambers wrong-footed Martinez when he misdirected a header backwards and Haaland seized possession to set up Gundogan with a low ball across goal.
This time the German, who scored twice against Villa at secure the title on the final day last season, was not to be denied.
It got worse for the visitors as City claimed a third from the penalty spot in first-half injury time after former Villa star Grealish was adjudged to have been fouled by Jacob Ramsey.
Mahrez, surprisingly given the responsibility ahead of Haaland, made no mistake.
City chased more after the break with Rodri having an effort saved by Martinez but gradually eased off the pace.
Villa pulled one back against the run of play on the hour after Douglas Luiz robbed Silva and played in Watkins, who beat Ederson with a low shot.
Manager Unai Emery followed up with some attacking substitutions but City limited their openings.
Mahrez should have added a fourth City goal but scooped the ball over from close range, while Jhon Duran hit the crossbar for Villa in injury time.
Published: by Radio NewsHub