Manchester: Manchester City laid down the gauntlet to Liverpool by leapfrogging their title rivals back to the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 win over Everton at the Etihad on Saturday.
Gabriel Jesus enjoyed a welcome return to form by scoring his first league goals in four months either side of half-time to put City two goals up.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin briefly gave Everton hope, but Raheem Sterling came off the bench to make the game safe with his first touch as City moved two points ahead of Liverpool, who host Manchester United on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola could even afford the luxury of leaving Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero on the bench on their return from injury as the Catalan coach again shuffled his pack for the busy festive period.
But fears in recent weeks that City lack a predator in front of goal when Aguero is absent were quashed by two fine finishes from Jesus. “It was a tricky game coming after Hoffenheim on Wednesday,” Guardiola told Sky Sports. “We responded well from defeat [to Chelsea] at Stamford Bridge.
“Sometimes you need to take time to get into a rhythm. We scored the first goal but the beginning was tough. We started the second half well, but our best moment was when we conceded a goal.
“They were physically strong and after 2-1 we were lucky to score a third one. We should have had more control after that. But now we have the League Cup and then the Premier League and we keep going.”
With temperatures approaching freezing in Manchester, City were nearly caught cold by a rare Everton break early on when Richarlison fired the first big chance of the game over from Lucas Digne’s cross.
The first big threat to Everton’s goal came from one of their own defenders when Michael Keane turned Leroy Sane’s cross towards his own goal and Jordan Pickford had to make a smart low save.
Everton also played a big part in their own downfall as Jesus opened the scoring midway through the first-half. Yerry Mina’s hopeful punt gifted away possession and the Colombian then played Jesus onside as the Brazilian ran onto Sane’s pass to fire low past Pickford.
The England No. 1 handed Liverpool’s title challenge a huge boost earlier this month as his error deep into stoppage time left Divock Origi an open goal to win the Merseyside derby.
But Pickford wasn’t so charitable to City as he made an excellent save to prevent Riyad Mahrez doubling the hosts’ lead just before half-time.
The champions had to wait just five minutes after the break to make it 2-0, when a patient build-up again found Sane on the left and the German’s cross was met by a bullet header from Jesus.
Everton had barely offered any threat in the second period before they got back into the game 25 minutes from time, Calvert-Lewin’s header from a high-hanging Digne cross flicking off Fabian Delph and past the helpless Ederson.
Guardiola responded by sending on Sterling for Sane and in a week when the England international has bravely spoken out about the alleged racist abuse he suffered last weekend by Chelsea fans, he also made his mark on the field by scoring immediately.
Jesus was involved again as he freed Fernandinho inside the area and his cross picked out the unmarked Sterling to score a rare header.
De Bruyne then made his first appearance for six weeks — just his fourth in the Premier League all season, all of which have come as a substitute — after lengthy absences for two knee injuries.
Other than defeat to Chelsea last weekend, City have barely missed a beat without the Belgian, but the return of their player of the year in last season’s record-breaking campaign is an early Christmas present for Guardiola ahead of Liverpool’s visit to the Etihad on January 3.