Sergio Aguero scored twice as Manchester City overcame rock-bottom Aston Villa with a 4-0 win to boost their Premier League title bid at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini insisted this week that a title charge is still within his side's capabilities and they made the most of Tottenham's earlier draw with Arsenal with a ruthless second-half performance.
City dictated proceedings but were frustrated by Villa's deep defensive approach in the opening period, with Aguero and Wilfiried Bony spurning good chances before Joe Hart denied Jordan Ayew with a strong save.
Villa's resistance lasted until the break, but City, who had been laboured in attack until that point, struck three minutes into the second period when Yaya Toure finished a clinical move involving Aguero and David Silva.
Micah Richards inadvertently turned an attempted clearance in off Aguero to make it 2-0 and the Argentine bagged his sixth goal in just four Premier League matches against Villa to make it three for City soon afterwards.
Substitute Raheem Sterling added a fourth before Aguero missed a penalty as City snapped a three-match losing streak in the top flight and restored a three-point cushion to Manchester United in fifth place.
Aguero, who began the match playing in a deeper role off central striker Bony, had City's first real golden chance with 11 minutes played, but Brad Guzan reacted superbly to tip his effort from close range over the crossbar.
Bony fluffed an effort past the far post after Gael Clichy's fine curling cross caught the Villa defence napping, before Guzan parried Aguero's half-volley away from danger as the home side continued to dominate, though Hart had to be alert to turn aside Ayew's snap shot.
City were too often let down by slack passing in the attacking third during the first half, but a slick move finally gave them a 48th-minute lead. Aguero burst into the area down the right and cleverly cut the ball back for Silva, whose simple pass across goal was tucked into the bottom corner by Toure.
The hosts doubled their lead just two minutes later in fortuitous fashion, as former City man Richards, sliding in to cut out Bony's reverse pass, could only hook the ball into the shins of Aguero and watch it bounce into the net.
With the Etihad in far more relaxed mood, City looked increasingly fluid in attack and Aguero latched onto Silva's lobbed ball over the defence to fire in a third at the near post on the hour mark.
Sterling added a fourth just four minutes after coming on, tapping home from inside the six-yard box after Jesus Navas' low cross bobbled right through a crowded Villa penalty area.
Aguero spurned a chance for his hat-trick when he hit the outside of the post from the penalty spot, but the miss did little to brighten Villa's mood, with Remi Garde's side still rooted to the bottom of the table.
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