Pep Guardiola’s team has made, by its own high standards, a faltering start to the campaign, not helped by the disruption of recent positive coronavirus tests among squad members, with injured defender Eric Garcia the latest to succumb.
But all that was put behind them with a blistering first half performance at Stamford Bridge that left Frank Lampard’s Chelsea reeling.
Goals from Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne gave City a winning buffer, with the home side unable to make much of an impression until Callum Hudson-Odoi scored a late consolation.
City is up to fifth place in the standings, four points adrift of leaders Liverpool and cross-city rival Manchester United, with a game in hand, while Chelsea remains eighth.
De Bruyne played a central attacking role because of City’s depleted squad, with Gabriel Jesus one of those on the sidelines after a positive test.
He said it was an important win against one of the acknowledged top six sides.
“I think it’s important we win these big games and today we showed we can win those big games,” said the Belgian star.
Guardiola was delighted by the performance of his team as it took closer order in the title race.
“The way we won championships in the past is the way we played today,” he told Sky Sports, singling out Foden for his performance.
“He can play up front in all four positions; the way we rely on him is incredible,” Guardiola said.
Chelsea, by contrast, has won just one match in six, and a fifth league defeat raises question marks over head coach Frank Lampard, who took over at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2019.
His big money close season signings have failed to spark, and Timo Werner cut a frustrated figure up front as his goal drought continued.
“There are periods of pain we are going to go through. That was painful in the first half for the players,” Lampard told Sky Sports.
Chelsea made a bright start, but the good work was undone by two goals in quick succession from the visitor.
The excellent Gundogan struck first in the 18th minute, turning neatly to fire home from the edge of the area after a clever assist from Foden.
It was Foden on target next, three minutes later, as he swept home De Bruyne’s low cross with the Chelsea defense in disarray.
Just before halftime, Raheem Sterling was sent clear after a Chelsea attack broke down.
His shot rattled the woodwork, and De Bruyne was on hand to control neatly and score with a low shot.
Lampard made changes in the second half to little impression on the game, but two of the substitutes combined for an injury time goal as Kai Havertz charged forward to release Hudson-Odoi, who finished neatly.
Leicester sinks Newcastle
Earlier, Leicester City took closer order in third place in the standings with a 2-1 win at Newcastle, leaving the Foxes one point off the top having played a game more.
James Maddison broke a tight deadlock in the 55th minute after fine work from Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy, who laid the ball into his path to fire home.
Youri Tielemans blasted a brilliant second, but substitute Andy Carroll’s first goal in a Newcastle shirt for 10 years set up a nervy finale for Brendan Rodgers’ team at St James’ Park.
“In the second half we stayed strong defensively. Once we got the first goal it opened it up a little bit. It became a war in the last 10 minutes,” he told Sky Sports.
“The squad has been tremendous in terms of how they have coped with European and our league efforts. There is still a long way to go but it’s a great start for us.”
Milan rivals top in Italy
Action in other major European leagues also resumed after a festive break, and AC Milan stayed top in Serie A with a 2-0 win over midtable Benevento.
City rivals Inter trail by just a point after Lautaro Martinez scored a hat-trick in a 6-2 thrashing of Crotone. Romelu Lukaku scored his 50th goal for Inter in the rout.
In Germany, goal machine Robert Lewandowski scored twice as Bayern Munich came from two goals down to beat Mainz 5-2 to go top of the Bundesliga.
The Bavarian powerhouse is two points clear of second-placed RB Leipzig, 1-0 winners over Stuttgart on Saturday.
In La Liga, Atletico Madrid leapfrogged neighbors Real Madrid at the top as Luis Suarez hit a 90th minute winner to beat 10-man Alaves 2-1.
Atletico is two points clear with two games in hand over defending champion Real.